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Native people of the Great Plains are as famous for their beadwork as they are for their emphasis on horses and the buffalo hunt. The expansion of the fur trade in the 18th century spread guns and other trade goods. It combined with the northward movement of horses of Spanish origin from the Southwest to precipitate population movements and transformations that would reshape the Native American West. After 1860, when seed beads in many colors became widely available, together with steel needles, knives and awls, stylistic diversity increased dramatically. The multitude of tribal origins and contacts is reflected in identifiable stylistic traditions, each with characteristic techniques, motifs, and colors.
People of the Columbia Plateau traditionally relied on salmon, roots and local game. Acquisition of horses around 1730 promoted expeditions across the Rockies to hunt buffalo, and eastern Plateau groups like the Nez Perce intensified existing connections with neighboring Plains Tribes. Thus Plateau beadwork shares a Transmontane geometric style with the Crow, long-time allies. Designs emphasize panels or bands divided by transverse stripes containing smooth hourglass or triangular forms in pastel colors, against a light blue or lavender pink background. A second Plateau beadwork tradition depicted floral motifs, first stylized, later more realistic, and images of people, animals, landscapes, and other contemporary themes were added in the late 19th century.
Beading was historically women’s work in Native Plains and Plateau societies. Both women and men gained respect when their families were well-dressed, women for industriousness and artistry and men as hunters and providers for supplying the skins. Often girls learned to bead from an older relative or other elder. The examples shown here represent a sample of Plains and Plateau beaded bags and pouches from the Museum’s collections. Photography by Chris White, text by Pam Endzweig, web development by Keith Hamm and Fazil Parappurath. Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Production of this gallery was generously supported by The Ford Family Foundation and a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust.
Dubin, Lois Sherr
1999 North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, N.Y.
2009 Native American Clothing: An Illustrated History. Firefly Books, Ltd, Buffalo, N.Y.
John M. Gogol
1985 Columbia River/Plateau Indian Beadwork. American Indian Basketry and other Native Arts No 18.
Mary D. Schlick and Kate C. Duncan
1991 Wasco-Style Woven Beadwork -- Merging Artistic Traditions. American Indian Art Magazine. 16(3):36-45.
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