Art for Sale

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Dakota beaded leather wall pocket.

As the pressures of colonization continued into the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Native Americans began to respond with objects made specifically in an effort to participate in the changing economy. The small beaded pouch, known as a wall pocket, was made by a Minnesota Dakota woman circa 1880. It incorporates both Dakota motifs and materials (contrasting lanceolate leaves, deer skin) and American motifs and materials (flags and five-pointed stars, glass trade beads) in order to shrewdly appeal to non-Native women for sale.

The beautiful mixed lace woman’s vest is an artifact of Bishop Whipple’s mission among the Minnesota Dakota circa 1890. Whipple employed Church matrons to teach Dakota women the feminine European art of bobbin lace as part of his civilizing objective. Vests like this piece were produced as homework that was intended to show a woman’s progress towards advancement, as well as a skill that could be used for employment. One fascinating object that exists from this mission in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society is a small bobbin lace doily, the image of a tipi elegantly and poignantly woven into the center.

 Across all Native American cultures in the United States and irrespective of object type, traditional art forms generally underwent miniaturization in the late 19th century, primarily in order to make them portable for easy sale to tourists and museums as souvenirs. This circa 1900 image is of an unknown Plains woman sitting in front of her traditional family home, apparently having brought out doll-house sized versions of tipis for sale to visiting tourists.

 Among the Minnesota Anishinaabe, women made dolls for both for their own children and for sale to tourists. This doll depicts a man in the type of formal dress – beaded shirt and leggings, an apron, and two bandolier bags strapped across his chest – that can be seen on men dancing at pow wows to this day.