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Quilts and Textiles


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To Honor & Comfort: Native Quilting Traditions
An exhibition produced by the Michigan State University Museum
Based on a larger version produced in collaboration with the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, and Atlatl.

Star Quilt
Maker known only as "Bobo" (Hispanic/Pueblo Indian)
New Mexico
97 1/4" wide x 105 1/4:" long
Private collection
Photo Elbinger Studios, Inc.
This quilt only appears in the exhibit as an image on a text panel.

The previous owner of this quilt acquired it from a woman of Hispanic and Pueblo Indian background known only as "Bobo," who died in 1965 at the age of 92. The quilt is unusual in that the star is set with corners of white cloth with colorful embroidered floral and grid designs.

An unidentified Lakota quilter works on a patchwork quilt with Star blocks.
Photo courtesy of Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum.

Life Between Sunsets, 1985
Bernyce K Courtney (Wasco/Tlingit)
Warm Springs Reservation, Oregon
44" x 63 3/4"
Collection of Michigan State University Museum, Accession #1997:73
Photo: Elbinger Studios, Inc.

Bernyce Courtney uses a design in this quilt which she also uses in her woven Wasco "sally bags," a traditional form of basketry. Bernyce says of her quilting, "I am honoring this culture but the culture is comforting me."

Of the various North American Indian art forms that resulted from contact with Euro-Americans, quiltmaking is perhaps the least well known.

Quilts have been used in nearly every Native community for everday purposes such as bed coverings, shelter coverings, infant's swing cradles, weather insulation, and providing a soft place to sit on the ground. In some communities, quilts also play important roles in tribal ceremonies, the honoring of individuals, and other activities.

To Honor and Comfort: Native Quilting Traditions celebrates the history and diversity of quiltmaking in Native communities and pays tribute to the artists who continue to create within this expressive cultural tradition.

A Potowatomi baby in a sling cradle made by folding a quilt over suspended ropes.
Photo by J.A. Little, courtesy of State Archives of Michigan, Michigan Department of State, 1909.

This remarkable photograph from 1924 shows a series of quilts draped over horses in a 4th of July parade in Fort Totten, North Dakota.
Photo courtesy of William Maxwell Collection, University of North Dakota Library.

This Arapaho man wrapped in a quilt, holds a photo that may been of a family member. In most historical formal portraits of Indians there is little evidence of non-Native material culture; photographers attempted to create the most "traditional Indian" look and often removed any item not considered "Indian" enough. It is thus surprising that many images exist of Indians wearing or sitting on quilts.
Photo courtesy of Wyoming Division of Cultural Resources.

Quilts are often used to sit on as this one at the 1992 Michigan State University American Indian Heritage Pow Wow, in East Lansing.
Photo: Marsha MacDowell, 1992.

Origins of Native Quilting
Female members of the ali'i or chiefly family joined the missionary wives on board the brig Thaddeus, moored of Oahu, for a sewing party that was documented by Lucy Thurston in her journal on April 4, 1820, "...Kalakua brought a web of white cambric to have a dress made for herself in the fashion of our ladies...The four native women of rank were furnished with calico patch-work to sew -- a new employment for them."
-- Lee W. Wild, The Hawaiian Quilt, 1989.

Quiltmaking in Native communities was first learned through contact with primarily Euro-Americans, who possessed commercially manufactured cloth and steel needles. Traders, missionaries, government agents, and settlers all played roles in introducing quilting fabrics and techniquess. It was not surprising that Native peoples -- already skilled at similar craft forms such as fabricating tapa cloth and hide garments, and embroidering with porcupine quills and moose hair-- became adept at quilting and began to use quilts for purposes uniqued to their own cultures.

A display of needlework produced at the St. Francis Mission was part of the May 24, 1936 celebration of the mission's fiftieth anniversary on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. This photo records Sister Olnida with members of the mission's sewing class. Virginia Hairy Shirt, Jessie Long Dog, Bessie Leading Fighter, Mary Left Hand Bull, and Lizzie Brown.
Photo courtesy of Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum, St. Francis, South Dakota.

Two Hawaiian quilts are prominently displayed in front of a grass home in one of the earliest photographs of Hawaiian quilts.
Photo courtesy of the Bishop Museum. The State Museum of Natural and Cultural History

Seminole woman in chickee with hand-cranked sewing machine, 1927.
Photo by Claude C. Matlock, courtesy of the Historical Museum of Southern Florida. Neg. no. 139-30.

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