Bandolier Bag

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Bandolier Bag


1900 ca.

Physical Dimensions

L: 38" including tab and fringe W: 14 1/2" Notes: Length 33" without tab and fringe.




Potawatomi Bandolier Bag

File Catalog Entry: Bandolier Bag Potawatomi Tama, Iowa c.1910 Cloth, cotton binding, glass beads, yarn tassels 38" l x 14 1'2" w T220 Narrowing the attribution of this superb Great Lakes bandolier bag provides an object lesson of connoisseurship that must be dealt with, establishing stylistic criteria in Native American art history. Eugene Thaw purchased this bag as an example of Wisconsin Potawatomi work from a remarkable exhibition of Great Lakes friendship (or bandolier) bags organized by the Morning Star Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico during the summer of 1996. Complications about the Potawatomi attribution immediately arose when a similar beaded bag decorated with an almost identical configuration of maples leaves came to light in the collection of the Milwaukee Public Museum. (c.f. Torrence and Hobbs, 1989, fig. 61) (See text illustration) Its creation is attributed to a Mesquakie woman named "Sau Ki Ta Ne Qua", Mrs. Bill Leaf, about 1910. Long ago Allison Skinner noted that fruitvines were a most popular design unit in the beadwork of the Mesquakie people. Nevertheless, maple leaves with fruitvines have also been observed in the beadwork of the Potawatomi, Winnebago and Menominee of the period around 1900. Maple leaf designs were widely used for beading sashes and garters among these Wisconsin tribes. Where, then, did the newly acquired Thaw bag fit stylistically? Was it in fact of Mesquakie origin, made at Tama, Iowa and not in Wisconsin? Gaylord Torrence, who has closely studied Mesquakie art, has observed that after 1910 there was a change in Mesquakie beadwork aesthetics. The small beaded charm bags (c.f. fig. XX T12), often suspended from narrow beaded straps, gave way at that time to beaded vests based on Sioux prototypes, and full-sized bandolier bags were made following the Great Lakes model (PC, July 1996). This explains why a Winnebago maple leaf bag came to be adopted by Mrs. Bill Leaf as the model for the Mesquakie bandolier bag noted above. Did she or a colleague make the Thaw bag? While it is very similar in format and design, and even in the detailing of its leaves to Mrs. Leaf's, there are certain details of style that point to the Thaw bag being one of the Potawatomi prototypes which the Mesquakie consulted while expanding their artistic horizon. (Torrence recalls (PC 1996) seeing a bag almost identical in every respect to the Milwaukee museum bag during the 1950s, which was sold and subsequently lost from view: "It was pure Mesquakie" he states). He noted that the numerous multi-pointed flowerettes floating across both the main panel and straps of the Thaw bag as a prominent additional feature to the maple leaf and vine design. Flowerettes are typical Wisconsin Potawatomi motifs still used by beadworkers of the tribe. A flowerette decorated pair of beaded armbands dated 1975-80 was collected for the Lost and Found Traditions Exhibition (c.f. 1986, fig. 101) by this writer in Wisconsin Dells, and they and T255, a pair of leggings with beaded bands probably cut down from a bandolier strip, compare positively with the Thaw bag's older flowerette patterns. Also , Mrs. Leaf's Mesquakie bag lacks the typical Potawatomi cloth band separating the panel from the shoulder straps, sometimes in two registers but in the Thaw piece appearing as a single band. By contrast the Milwaukee bag has an "implied" border band of stars (an Osage and Mesquakie, not a Winnebago preference), but which is actually bead woven integrally with the bag face. Most Mesquakie friendship bags possess bottom tabs of equal size whereas the Thaw bag has a wider tab in the center, another Potawatomi tendency, though not always present. The calligraphic beaded design across the black cloth band in the Thaw Collection piece is not Mesquakie in character, but fits well with a Potawatomi attribution. When one looks closely at such details, a Potawatomi attribution is reaffirmed for the Thaw bag, despite close Mesquakie borrowings of this type. R.T.C.

Provenance: (1) John Welsch. Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.; (2) Richard Pohrt, Jr..; (3) Morning Star Gallery. Santa Fe, New Mexico.; (4) Eugene V. Thaw - August 1996.

Original Format

Bandolier Bag


Iowa, USA

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