Jerry Shaw of the Osage Nation spoke at the Hutchinson Public Library tonight as part of the “Native Threads” exhibit of quilts created by Native American quilt makers in Kansas. It’s on display on the mezzanine of the Hutchinson Public Library.
Shaw is an instructor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at Wichita State University and spoke on “Understanding Native Identity.” He covered a wide range of topics – everything from gaming to the appropriate terminology to refer to Native Americans. He says “American Indian” or “Native American” is appropriate, as well as “Indigenous People.”
His wife, Beth Shaw, a former school librarian and longtime student of Native textiles came with him. They brought some of the items in her and her husband’s collection, and it was fascinating to see them.
Jerry modeled this while Beth told us that the mustard and burgundy beads are not really seen anymore, unless someone had them saved back.
Notice the selvage edge running in a stripe down the back. That tells you it’s a man’s blanket. A woman’s blanket has the selvage around the top.
This belonged to Jerry’s grandfather who died in 1921.
The Osage are known for their ribbon and yarn work instead of beading. This is a great example of the ribbon work. She said this is done by laying down all three colors, then snipping and turning and stitching with a hidden stitch to make the design. His mother did the work on this piece.
The belt on this really significant because it’s unusual.
There were items made for the War Mother’s Society that featured flags and Palamino horses.
Jerry’s aunt had these made for her and her husband.
Note the selvedge differences – around the top on the one she’s wearing and down the back on his.
Women also wore blankets as skirts. They are folded over, with the design over the left leg in the Osage tradition, then the excess is folded on the right side and the whole thing secured with a belt.
This belt was made for another member of their family who is six feet tall, so it was a bit long on Beth. Traditionally, the ends would be even with the skirt at the floor.
If you look closely, you can see it’s tied at the top of it and the other bits would be hanging free. She was just holding them up to keep them off the floor.
This belt is a great example of the Osage yarn work.
It was quite a striking ensemble. Note the selvedge on the edge that is folded over. That’s what makes the stripe in the middle of the skirt. It would be important that all the designs lined up when finished.
This pink belt is modern, not vintage.
This purple, yellow and green belt is about 90 years old. It’s made of Germantown yarn, which was not available after 1918 due to WW1 blockades. Most of the things they showed us were pre-1932, but there’s very little fading.
This is a blanket shawl made to Pendleton. Jerry’s grandfather bought it for his wife on June 13, 1913, the day she gave birth to Jerry’s mother. These are still manufactured and you can date them by the stripes. This is called “plain stripe” because it’s the same on both sides.
The red fringe has been redone, so they don’t know what it looked like originally.
This lavender is made on the reverse – each side is different.
These are made of wool, but they call it broadcloth. She said it’s sometimes called “Trade cloth” too. This purple with the blue binding above was traded with the Navajo.
This blue with the purple binding is one Jerry has sat on during ceremonies, but he has never worn.
The blue one he has sat on during ceremonies and this lavender one were made in Europe, specifically for trade with the Osage Nation. Because they had some land with oil on it, the Osage Nation had money and were an important enough trade partner that some companies made products specifically for them.
This one is made in reverse. The blue on this side is purple on the other. It was made in Europe, too, as was the one below with the fringe.
This is made of a lighter weight, as you would think from looking at it. At a previous speech they did, an exchange student from Czechoslovakia said those were made in his village. Unfortunately, they never got to garner more information from him.
This cream colored with the embroidery is Spanish silk.
This one was once black, but is fading to a green color. It had very long, extravagant fringe on it with beads.
These beads are faceted Czech cut and the more they move, the more they sparkle. The fabric is wool gaberdine.
These silver buttons were ones Jerry’s mother had as a child. Beth sewed them on when they replaced the fabric on this. They didn’t want to lose the fringe, of course, so cut it as closely as possible and put new fabric on.
This red coat is a wedding outfit. It is the military garb worn by Napoleon’s army. He asked for representatives of the Osage nation to come to France. They did, and when they left, he offered them a gift, and they chose this. This particular one belonged to Jerry’s Aunt Nora who died in 1815.
These plumes were secured upright in a hatband as part of the costume.
She also showed some leggings. The Osage never had traditional trousers, their pants were three pieces.
She pointed out how the beading stitches do not show. She said this is an indication of age because these were brain-tanned, which you can’t do today. The way tanning is done today you can’t bead with a hidden stitch.
They both talked about the fringe, and how it goes back to the creation story that God sent an eagle ahead of them. Because of that, the feather is one of the most important symbols and the fringe is symbolic of the tarsal feathers of the eagle.
A feather in the headdress indicates a boy is now a man. The last thing they do with their dead is put a feather in their hand.
She showed this little vest, and I was struck by all the hand stitches inside it.
It was a fascinating evening with topics that jumped from one to another in the question session.
He said he thought “Dances with Wolves” is the most authentic film made about Native Americans.
He talked about the different qualifications for various groups. The Ute of Utah require 5/8 blood. The Osage and Cherokee accept anyone with any amount of blood. He said DNA may soon be used to determine such things. I was always told my great, great, grandmother was Cherokee. The place is right, the timing is right, and she certainly looks like a Native American in the one photo I have, but I have no actual proof. We have always accepted it as truth because we have no reason not to, but it would be wonderful to claim such a proud heritage with no doubt.
One of the most interesting things he mentioned was that in 2004, of 16,000 people in the Osage Nation, only five of them spoke the language. FIVE. So, they started language schools and now there are 1200 people who have studied. In 2004 they started with 25 students. It’s amazing to think about how close they came to losing their language. That would have been a tragedy.
Of course, there have been plenty of tragedies visited upon plenty of indigenous peoples in plenty of places. I hope that one has been avoided. It would be a loss to the world to lose a language that has been spoken for centuries.
An amazing evening. I was trying to take photos and notes, and they were going really quickly, but it was fascinating.
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