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Catalog Entry: This coat was made of caribou skin by a Naskapi Indian woman in Labrador in the late eighteenth century. Despite its considerable age the skin has maintained its suppleness, bearing witness to the high quality of Native tanning techniques. The parts were sewn together with thread made from animal sinew, following a coat pattern derived from seventeenth-century European fashion. In painting the coat the woman utilized both Native and imported color pigments, mixed with an oil made of fish roe, and applied the paint with a bone stylus. For drawing parallel lines she used a fork-like pronged tool. In addition to this coat she painted similar designs on a cap, a pair of mittens, leggings and moccasins. Women used to make and paint two coats for their husbands every year, one of skin that retained the fur for the winter, and another one for the summer such as here illustrated. They were held together with a belt or sash around the waist. Painted skin garments were worn by the men while hunting, for it was believed that such beautiful costumes pleased the guardian spirits of the game and protected the hunters against evil demons of the wilderness. Some of the painted designs on each garment originated from the hunter's dreams; his wife translated such revelations in the art style of her people. Although this curvilinear style reveals French colonial influence, the design elements conformed to symbolic interpretations relating to the caribou hunt. (c.f. Burnham 1991, pp. 50, 149, 153, 158, 162 & 171) Thus, these hunting garments were imbued with magical power, and also the caribou hunt itself was considered a sacred occupation.
length 44.5 in, width 66 in