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Collection Highlight E280184: Gut Skin Parka

E280184

By Daniel Kellam.

In modern times, if the weather turns bad and you get caught in the rain you grab an umbrella or perhaps a lightweight nylon rain jacket from a popular outdoor company. But what if you don’t have access to resources like those and you need to rely on something from nature? You can look no further than the inside of a seal or other marine mammal. Seal intestines, also known as “gut skin” is the traditional material used by Arctic indigenous cultures to provide them with an incredibly lightweight and versatile weatherproof shell to wear when hunting in poor weather or at sea, and it is even used in ceremonial dress.

This gut skin parka comes from St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, Alaska. Donated by Riley D. Moore in 1913, it is made from seal or walrus intestine and decorated with crested auklet feathers, fur, and even sports a drawstring hood. The waterproof seams are achieved by a process of using sinew thread and a technique that folds and reinforces the seam with a method of sewing that allows the material not to be pierced all the way through. To see how the gut skin is processed and used check out Material Traditions: Sewing Gut, from the Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum where three Native Alaskan artists demonstrate the proper techniques to manufacture this ingenious solution to keeping dry.

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