Sunday, November 8, 2009

Embellishment Canadian Style

That's the name of the all day seminar I attended yesterday at the ROM, which focused on painted skins, beads, cloth and threads.

A gentleman by the name of Arni Brownstone, who is assistant curator in the Ethnology department, talked about the way Native Indian warriors used to decorate their animal skin robes with paintings of their conquests, the meaning of the different symbols and how they had determined that the robe in the Museum's collection originated in the Blackfoot tribe of southern Alberta.

Dr. Trudy Nicks, the Senior Curator of the Ethnology department, spoke of "Storied Beadwork" and described three items in the Museum's collection and what they knew of the stories behind them. One was a bead sample chart, which would have been used to sell beads, the second was a beaded sash worn as part of a ceremonial uniform, and the third was a beaded moss bag and cradle, used to carry a baby (or in the case of the photo, twins!)

We then had a slide show presented by Samuel Thomas, who described his travels to various famous locations around the world and the beaded pieces he created on the trip, which I shall tell you more about in a later blog.

After a delicious lunch in the sunny and spacious museum cafeteria, which seemed to be filled with grandparents and children, and a short visit to the First Nations gallery of the Museum, I returned to the auditorium for the afternoon program.

Adrienne Hood, a professor at U of T who used to work in the museum gave us a brief comparison of Ontario quilts vs. those made in Pennsylvania, under the title of "Necessity or Luxury? Cloth in Canadian Quilts". The photo on the right shows various scraps of fabric in the museum's collection that have been saved from quilts that were too worn to preserve in their entirety.

The final speaker was Jennifer Salahub, who discussed fashionable domestic embroidery and described the morale code of the 18th and 19th centuries where it was believed that a woman's skill with embroidery was a reflection of her gentility and social standing.

All in all, it was a very interesting day listening to each of these speakers describe how their jobs basically involve a great deal of detective work to find out about the various pieces in their care, to learn abouth both the items themselves and what they were used for and made out of, and also the story behind the piece, how it fit into the society of its day.

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