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May 4, 2016


Filed under: Item of the Day — Jason Onerheim @ 12:01 am

An Ojibwe birchbark makak decorated with scraped floral designs. Used in pageants held at Itasca State Park, Minnesota, in the early-to-mid 1900s. The pageants were written by Jack Rohr to celebrate the anniversary of the Schoolcraft exploration of the source of the Mississippi River.

For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this makak in our collections database.

February 17, 2016

New Website on Ojibwe Material Culture

Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 10:45 am

A new addition to the Explore section of the website is a single theme page dedicated to the material culture of the Ojibwe people that are currently in the Minnesota Historical Society’s holdings. The number of objects is over 2,000 and includes clothing, birchbark, tools, and government items.

The website is organized into different categories, making it easier for the user to find specific objects. Once in a category, it will lead to either a sub-category page or link to MNHS’ online search tool with the corresponding objects. These items were digitized as a result of a project to make the Ojibwe material more accessible.

Some of the highlights from the collection include a beaded jacket dated circa  1920s:

A wooden mold used for making maple sugar candy dated circa the early 20th century:

A pair of beaded moccasins dated circa 1999:

A wooden and leather lacrosse stick dated circa the early 20th century:

Visit the Ojibwe Material Culture site and explore for yourself!

Rita Walaszek
Collections Assistant

August 20, 2015

Native American Artist-in-Residence Program highlights

Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 4:09 pm

This fall marks the end of the first full year of the Native American Artist-in-Residence program here at the Minnesota Historical Society. The three 2014/15 artists, Pat Kruse, Jessica Gokey and Gwen Westerman have seen great successes with their collections research and community outreach activities. Here are some of this year’s highlights:

Recently, Ojibwe beadwork artist Jessica Gokey concluded the public workshop portion of her residency at the Lower Sioux Agency. Jessica shared her experiences studying the MNHS historic Ojibwe beadwork collections, while providing instruction to participants, assisting them in designing and creating their own floral beadwork.

Birchbark artist Pat Kruse participated in a reception and gallery talk at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum where he showcased large wall pieces alongside many of the intricate baskets that he and his son Gage made during the residency. Pat also demonstrated how he works with birchbark and how the Ojibwe people use the bark in many different ways.

Textile artist Gwen Westerman has been visiting various musuems, studying early Dakota ribbonwork in order to understand historic patterns and techniques. She has intensely studied the collections here, at the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.  Working with three apprentices, Gwen is developing ribbonwork teaching guides that will incorporate Dakota language.


One of the goals of the Artist-in-Residence program is to acquire work created by each artist for the permanent collection. From Jessica Gokey we recently accessioned a beaded table cover which depicts nearly 20 traditional indigenous plants used for food in the Great Lakes region. We also acquired work by Jessica’s apprentice, Terri Hom. Terri made a beaded placemat and birchbark napkin ring that were inspired by historic items in MNHS’ collections.  Jessica and Terri talk about their work and the residency program in our new video, here: https://youtu.be/0bvz_lwgYFY


Also recently added to our permanent collections were many birchbark applique items created by Pat Kruse and his son and apprentice Gage. Pat and Gage created wonderful baskets based on their study of the forms of historic baskets. To these forms, they add their own personal, artistic, and family style and arrive at the wonderful contemporary baskets seen here. (To listen to Pat and Gage speak about their experiences, please visit http://youtu.be/sKtXiOkhNsY).
With the first residencies wrapping up, we have just published a Call for Submissions for the upcoming round. The deadline is September 30th with two artists announced shortly thereafter. Please visit
www.mnhs.org/residencies and check out our facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/mnhsnativeartistresidencies for more information.

Thanks, Rita Walaszek and Ben Gessner
Native American Artist-in-Residence Program

August 18, 2014

Artists Selected for 2014/15 Native American Artist-in-Residence Program

Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 10:30 am

The Minnesota Historical Society has recently awarded three six-month paid residencies to artists Jessica Gokey, Pat Kruse and Gwen Westerman. Each artist works in a traditional media, which together represent many of the major historical art forms of the region: beadwork, birchbark, and textiles (ribbonwork).

These residencies were created to provide opportunities for artists to use collections at MNHS, as well as at other institutions, in order to develop their respective art forms. These residencies, while rooted in historical research, are designed to provide a platform for artists to move their art forward. While in residence, each of these artists will continue to develop research and community outreach plans that delve deeply and broadly into their communities, to gain new knowledge and to share their expertise.

Jessica Gokey, is a beadwork artist who lives in the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) community in Hayward, Wisconsin. She has been beading for more than ten years and shares her knowledge with members of the community by teaching at the LCO Ojibwa Community College. Gokey believes that sharing her “knowledge of traditional Ojibwe beadwork will help preserve the art of beadwork for future generations.” She plans on researching the extensive bandolier bag and other beadwork collections.

Pat Kruse, a birch bark artist who lives in the Mille Lacs community in Minnesota, has been working with birch bark for more than 30 years. Kruse creates birch bark products “to honor the old ways and the ancestors that practiced these ways.” He will research the birch bark collections and continue to build an apprentice relationship with his son, in order to pass on this traditional knowledge.

Gwen Westerman, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, is a textile artist who lives in Good Thunder, Minnesota. As a member of the six generations of women in her family who have made quilts, she sees quilts as having not only a utilitarian function but also as containing stories. Westerman has been expanding her textile arts with other traditional art forms to “find new ways to tell our stories.” She plans on researching and revitalizing traditions of Dakota ribbonwork.

The Artists-in-Residence were selected based on the recommendations of a panel consisting of experts in the field of Native American arts and culture. The panel members are Sasha Brown (Santee Dakota), Joe Horse Capture (A’aninin Tribe of Montana) and Scott Shoemaker (Miami Nation).

The Native American Artist-in-Residence program is made possible in part by a grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.

Rita Walaszek, Collections Assistant
Ben Gessner, Native American Artist-in-Residence Program Coordinator

June 3, 2013

Quillwork Cuffs by Dallas Goldtooth

Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 3:21 pm

2013_41_2.jpgUnique to North America, porcupine quillwork is an art form used by Indigenous peoples that have traditionally resided in the porcupine’s natural habitat – from coast to coast in the northern United States and Canada.

With tendrils stretching back over centuries, quillwork was the primary decorative art form used for embellishing rawhide and tanned hide items prior to the introduction of glass beads of European manufacture. Many Dakota and Lakota people have oral traditions which explain how quilling was brought to them by Double Woman (or Double Face Woman). The earliest extant examples of quillwork are found in Canada and are said to date to the 6th century.

In their natural state, workable porcupine quills are usually pale with black tips. Historically, color was added through the use of dyes made from plant and animal materials. By the 19th century, commercial dyes became readily available and greatly expanded the possibilities for new designs and color combinations. Historic quillwork from the plains, much like painting and beadwork, is often characterized by geometric patterns – concentric circles and rosettes, as well as other geometric shapes, were commonly found on panels adorning men’s shirts.

2013_41_1.jpgTraditionally practiced by women, today many men are also contributing to the revival of the quillwork art form.   Through working with knowledgeable practitioners and relatives (and sometimes by studying museum collections), today quillwork artists are revitalizing the practice; it is again becoming a vibrant and living art form.

Quillwork in the Minnesota Historical Society Native American Collections is robust, with examples of historic moccasins, pipe bags, men’s shirts, pipe stems, armbands, dresses, ornaments, dolls, gloves, jackets, tobacco pouches and more attributed to Dakota makers, as well as birchbark tourist trade items made by Ojibwe makers.

In addition to our historic collections, there are also quillwork pieces created by contemporary artists. Among them is a cradleboard done by Hope Two Hearts and Galen Drapeau (Isanti and Ihanktowan Dakota, respectively), circa 1980. An image of this cradleboard, which won best traditional art at the Sante Fe Indian Market, was featured in promotional materials for Hope and Galen’s business, the Elk’s Camp Society.
Surrounded by the art form for most of his life, Dallas Goldtooth, Hope’s son, has himself been creating contemporary work for over a decade. Recently, the MHS Collections Department had the opportunity to purchase a pair of cuffs from the artist, seen here.

These will be on view in the Recent Acquisitions show at the  James J. Hill House until the end of June.

Ben Gessner
Collections Associate, American Indian and Fine Art Collections

April 29, 2013

Birchbark makak

Filed under: Item of the Day — Lizzie Ehrenhalt @ 9:30 am

Birchbark makak

Birchbark makak with a braided basswood handle made by Margaret Hill of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians no later than 2009. The makak’s rim is woven into a vertical zig-zag pattern with blue fibers. Directly beneath the blue fibers is a zig-zag border cut out of a darker color birchbark. The makak’s lid has the same vertical woven pattern around its edge. A circular piece of birchbark with a zig-zag edge decorates the center; a birchbark handle attaches to the top.

April 22, 2013

Ojibwe earrings

Filed under: Item of the Day — Lizzie Ehrenhalt @ 10:01 am

Ojibwe earrings

Pair of Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) earrings made out of birchbark with silvertone screwback findings. Purchased in Wisconsin; created between 1900 and 1950.

For details, view the earrings in our online collections database.

May 22, 2012

Ojibwe birch bark makak

Filed under: Item of the Day — Lizzie Ehrenhalt @ 9:30 am

Ojibwe birch bark makak

Birch bark makak (basket) with floral embroidery made by Rebecca LaFromboise of Redby, Minnesota.  The basket is assembled with basswood (linden) lacing. The exterior edging consists of four evenly spaced birch bark triangles laced to the rim and secured under wood strip reinforcements. The front wall face of the basket is decorated with a floral motif featuring a three-petal flower, one leaf and three curled stem extensions. The motif is embroidered with dyed porcupine quills in shades of red, yellow, light green and dark green.

A card in the basket includes this statement by the artist:

When our Ojibwe ancestor’s [sic] came out of The Big Woods [of] Minnesota and Wisconsin 250 years ago and migrated west onto the Northern Plains of the Dakota’s, they brought with them the ancient art form of birchbark work. These decorative baskets were used for utilitarian purposes. The bark is white birch, the rim is made of ash, and the twine is bass wood fiber. We call these baskets Wigizi Mokok (Birchbark baskets). I and my family are Chippewa from the Turtle MT. Band and reside in Dunseith, N.D. at the heart of Turtle Island, enjoy Megwetch (Thank You).

For details, view the makak in our online collections database.

March 29, 2012

Coffee pot by Carolyn Halliday

Filed under: Item of the Day — Lizzie Ehrenhalt @ 9:30 am

Coffee pot by Carolyn Halliday

Coffee pot sculpture by Minneapolis-based artist Carolyn Halliday, 2001.  The sculpture is made of knitted copper and silver wire with birch bark inserts.  Small glass beads in shades of green, tan and brown accent the pot’s handle and top.  The separable lid also has bead accents and a birch bark insert.  Lacquer has been applied to stiffen the pot’s shape.

An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs