APPLIQUE’ OR RIBBONWORK
Applique’ or Ribbonwork is an extremely important art form among Woodland Indians. In the early 1750’s, Native women cut patterns from silk and folded, tucked, and sewed them as decoration onto woolen cloth garments, especially in Wisconsin among the Potawatomi, Menominee, and Ho-chunk. While ribbonwork was found mostly on women's dresses, it was also used to decorate men's leggings, moccasins, and cradleboard wrappers. Although geometric designs were used to a considerable extent, the majority were curvilinear or floral. Ribbonwork reached its peak in the last quarter of the 19th century, having moved out from its epicenter in the Great Lakes to several tribes in the Prairies, Plains, and Northeast.
The silk ribbons used in native ribbonwork were brought by French traders to the Great Lakes region in the later part of the 18th century. By the beginning of the 19th century, Europeans had observed this unique style of decoration among several tribes. The original ribbons were made of brightly colored silk and the appliqué was hand-stitched on darkly colored wool, broadcloth and sometimes leather. Due to the nature of the material, early productions of items with ribbonwork are extremely perishable and fragile.
The Wampanoag are known historically for the manufacturing and use of wampum as a trade item and was traded inland into the Great lakes region. Wampum belts are sacred and are an important cultural property. Intricate patterns depict many events in stories of the tribes who use Wampum. In the northeastern woodlands, the Haudenosaunee and other tribes used woven wampum belts to record important information such as counsels and treaties. The process to make wampum beads is labor-intensive and toxic if not handled correctly. To this day Wampum is highly desirable not only because of its intense beauty, but because of its sacred relationship to Native peoples and its undeniable role in an established economic structure prior to the arrival of Europeans to this continent. Wampum is a shell and care must be taken so as not to chip.
INDIGENOUS / GLASS / TRADE BEADS
The earliest beads are made from natural materials including bone, shell, animal teeth and stone. The earliest forms of glass beads in North America were first used by European explorers to trade with Native Americans, called trade beads. Trade beads were larger than today’s seed bead and were made in China, Italy, and later from Poland and Czechoslovakia. The most favored trade beads by Great Lakes tribes were called Peking glass, Chevrons, and White Hearts. In the 1800’s seed beads were introduced to the Great Lakes tribes and are a major part of Indigenous culture throughout North America and Canada, today.
Gemstones found within the earth’s surface are colorful and translucent, beautiful to any beholder. Prized for these qualities, gemstones were used to adorn oneself as jewelry. Much like today, any material that is rare is considered highly valuable. Some people believe that gemstones have different spiritual and healing properties that can help channel positive energies. Gemstones are stronger than beads, although care must be taken so as not to scratch or crack.
Birch bark was used by Great Lakes tribes for everything from wigiwams, canoes, cooking utensils and baskets. Today we make jewelry with the birch bark to remind us how important the birch tree was to the survival of our Great Lakes tribes. Birch bark will eventually become dry and cracked and slight curling may occur. This is a natural process inherent in any bark.
Porcupine quill work is the original form of art decoration unique to the people living in the porcupine’s natural habitat. In some cases, the quill can be flattened and wrapped or woven, or stitched onto a fibrous material for adding decorative color to attire and jewelry. Porcupine quills are extremely fragile and once a quill is bent, the integrity is broken and it will continue to split in that area either across or up and down. Extreme care is encouraged for porcupine quillwork.
METALWORKING (Copper & Gold)
Copper and gold were both very common in the Americas before Europeans arrived. Metalwork was practiced by Great Lakes tribes and made into tools through cold hammering and not by melting metals to liquid called smelting. Copper was particularly abundant in the Great Lakes and was a major part of eastern trade networks even from the earliest times. Copper is considered sacred because of its use in depictions of sacred and political images and because of its medicinal properties when wearing it. The government concern over the destruction of valuable copper was a major factor in the banning of potlatches and indigenous ceremonies in the northwest.
SILVERSMITHING (Silver & Coins)
Silversmithing was introduced to Natives along the Atlantic Coast by early Europeans and the process was taken up by nearly all the Woodland tribes and arrived in the Great lakes around 1820. Early work was done in coin silver, by hammering coins to flatten them into thin sheets which were used to make jewelry. However, coin silver was soon replaced by what is called “German silver,” an alloy composed mostly of nickel, with some zinc and copper. Small ring-shaped brooches were sometimes called “friendship brooches” and were exchanged by women as tokens of their regard for one another.
THE BEAUTY OF NATURAL METAL PATINA AND OXIDATION
The patina process of any metal is completely natural and one of the attractions for people who understand the aging process and appreciate the look. Patinas form when Mother Nature touches the surface of metals such as bronze, brass, copper, and sterling silver through oxidation and weather exposure to elements over time. Patinas act as a protective layer over the metals in the form of blackened tarnish on silver which gives any grooves a 3-dimensional distinctive design, a rich gray-green patina called verdigris on copper and flecks of gorgeous blue on bronze. Unlike copper and bronze patinas, rust will not protect iron and will cause it to disintegrate. The only metal that does not discolor with age is pure gold.
We design our jewelry, clothing and accessories with all natural materials especially because of the patina process. We believe the natural patina process only makes our products more beautiful over time. You may receive your item already in the process of oxidation that gives it an antique quality.