Journal

Iroquois Beaded Wallet

03.25.2014

Iroquois beaded wallet

This wallet is a fine example of Iroquois Indian beadwork dating from the 1840s.  It was made by a Tuscarora woman whose people comprise the Sixth Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, and who resettled from their North Carolina homeland to western New York in the early 1700s. The beadwork artistry of the Tuscarora and their fellow Iroquoians (Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga and Mohawk) is described in two excellent books on Indian beadwork by collector and scholar Gerry Biron:  Made of Thunder, Made of Glass: American Indian Beadwork of the Northeast (2006), and A Cherished Curiosity: The Souvenir Beaded Bag In Historic Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Art (2012). 

Biron traces the history of beaded objects that the Iroquois made to sell to non-native Anglos of the middle and upper classes.  This exchange began during the earliest years of Iroquois contact with Europeans.  Shortly after the first trading post was established in 1608 in Montreal, the Iroquois living in upstate New York were able to obtain cut glass beads imported from Europe. Their traditional arts of adorning hide pouches and clothing with porcupine quills evolved to incorporate the new mediums of beads and fabric.

By the early 1800s, tourism was increasing in the Niagara Falls region near Iroquois lands, with the Tuscarora Reservation being closest to the Falls. This presented an opportunity for the Iroquois to make a subsistence living selling their creations to tourists.

Iroquois at Niagra Falls selling beadwork

Ladies buying beaded bags from Tuscarora women at Niagara Falls
(reprinted in Biron, 2012)

By the early 1840s, the Iroquois had adapted both their beaded designs and the forms of objects they decorated to the Victorian tastes and sensibilities of their customers.  Their traditional geometric and organic decorative motifs – curves, spirals, circles and wavy lines – gave way to floral decoration.  Biron calls this beadwork the “Niagara floral style” because it was developed largely by Iroquois vendors at Niagara Falls.

Iroquois floral beadwork

Based on Biron’s research, we can date this wallet with good certainty to the mid-1840s. This was the earliest period of the Niagara floral style in which the flowers are round rather than elongated, are smaller, and have longer stems than in later floral designs.  Also, the design is bilaterally symmetrical and worked with smaller beads than were used in later designs.  The multiple colors of beads – white, blue, ivory, rose, green and gold – are vibrant against the black velvet background.

iroquois beaded bird

The pictorial imagery of a bird was also introduced during this time period. Contemporary Tuscarora artists call the bird a Carolina Parakeet, after the now extinct bird that was native to their ancestral North Carolina homeland. Biron says the Iroquois beadwork designers most likely took their cue for the bird motif from Euro-American women’s own needlepoint projects in which it was popular to embellish pincushions, purses and the like with bird imagery.

Keep Reading

An Overview of Weave on Antique Hickory Furniture

03.25.2014

old hickory woven settee

A significant dimension of the appeal of certain antique hickory seating, beds and accessories is their woven surfaces. This article provides a brief pictorial overview of the various types of materials and patterns that hickory furniture makers originally used for woven seats, backs and panels.

Weave Materials

Hickory furniture manufacturers used four major materials for weaving from the early 1900s through the 1950s.

1. Hickory bark. The inner bark of hickory trees was the earliest material used on woven hickory furniture in the first decades of the 20th century.  Often the margins of the hickory bark strips on early furniture are wavy and irregular.

hickory bark weave

There was a resurgence of the use of hickory bark in the 1940s-1950s. The edges of the later hickory bark weave were more even than the earlier hickory bark strips, perhaps reflecting the use of improved cutting tools.

woven hickory bark seat

2. Rattan cane. Quarter round strips of Asian rattan cane with a smooth, glossy surface became the preferred weave material of hickory furniture manufacturers in the 1930s.

rattan cane weaving

Although not common, some hickory furniture was woven with a mixture of rattan cane and hickory bark:

mixed rattan and hickory weave

3. Reed.  Flat reed, which is made from the inner core of the rattan palm, came into use for weaving hickory furniture in the 1920s.

This example of woven flat reed has a thick layer of applied glossy finish which masks the texture of the reed:

woven flat reed

Below is an example of woven flat reed that has a thinner overcoat, so its fibrous texture is more visible:

woven half round reed

4. Fiber splint, also called Simonite (named after Luther A. Simons, the owner of Columbus Hickory Furniture Company who is credited with inventing it) was made from wood fiber. It was introduced in the late 1930s when it was hard for U.S. importers to get rattan from Japan and China while they were at war with one another in the years leading up to World War II.

woven fiber splint

A few additional materials that sometimes turn up on original hickory furniture are twine, used only on footstools, and nylon webbing, which was used on limited production designs in the 1940s-50s.

Keep Reading