Collections Highlight E428706: Chief’s Coat

E428706By By Emily Cain & Haley Bryant

In recognition of our 20th collections highlight, we’d like to not only share yet another great object, but also give you a glimpse into our process at the Circumpolar Ethnology Imaging Project. Learn more about the project’s origins in our introductory post!

This beautiful coat, made of smoked moose hide with caribou hair embroidery, was made by Dixie Alexander, a Gwich’in woman and master artist from Fort Yukon, Alaska. Click here to explore more images of the incredible beadwork and colorful caribou hair embroidery, which are evocative of arctic flora and symbolic of various animal tracks.

From a practical perspective, doing photoshoots with clothing like this coat presents a challenge. Because of their size, age, and weight, they require extra time and extra hands. Thanks to the arrival of our new digital imaging intern, Daniel Kellam, we are now able to devote time to photographing parkas, robes, and blankets every single week. So if you’re a lover of fashion, keep an eye out for more incredible clothing pieces by checking back in on the blog or exploring the Anthropology collections online!

Collection Highlight E45395: Mousetrap

Can you guess what this object is? It’s a mousetrap! It is hard to say exactly how it was used to catch mice since we can’t watch it in action, do you have any ideas? Have you ever seen any traps like this before? This trap was collected by Edward Nelson and accessioned by the museum in 1880. While it isn’t affiliated with any particular cultural group, it was collected near King Island in the Bering Strait and therefore is probably from the Inupiaq Inuit culture.

Explore more objects and images on our online database!

Collection Highlight E395295: Cup and Pin Game

How would you play with this toy? This game, “Tapaga ‘Towan”, is called both a “Ring-and-Pin game” and a “Cup-and-Pin game” in our records.  It was played by tossing the cups in the air and trying to catch them on the pin.   It is made out of fibers of dressed skin, and what look like small cups carved out of ivory. Associated with the Montagnais people, it was collected by Rev. John M. Cooper near James Bay, Quebec, and accessioned by the museum on the 6th of July, 1956.

Explore more objects and images on our online database!

Collection Highlight E153500: Flesher

While this object looks like it may have been used as a hunting implement or food processor, it was actually used to scrape the inside of hides as they were being processed. This flesher, or “Machequat” according to the information we have, is made of iron or steel, fibers, and dressed skin. It is affiliated with the Innu people and was collected near Labrador, Canada by Henry G. Bryant. It was collected in August or September of 1891 and accessioned by the museum on the 14th of January, 1892.

Explore more objects and images on our online database!

Collection Highlight E45062: Darts used in Gaming

This dart was used as part of a game. According to our catalogue information, boys and men would set up a series of stakes at which they would throw these darts, attempting to knock them down. The person who was able to take down the most stakes would win the pile of stakes and barbs. This particular dart was collected near Sledge Island in the Norton Sound, AK by Edward Nelson and accessioned by the museum in 1880.

Collection Highlight E402926: Leather Moccasins

This pair is just one example of the many different, beautiful moccasins we have in our collections from very diverse cultural groups. These moccasins, made out of leather and decorated with cloth and glass beads, are associated with the Innu or Naskapi people. They were collected by Dr. William Strong near Labrador, Canada, and donated to the museum by Dr. Matthew Stirling. They were accessioned by the museum on the 7th of August, 1964.

Explore more objects and images on our online database!


Collection Highlight E395317: Porcupine-tail Comb Cleaner

This small brush-like object that looks like a bundle of porcupine quills is actually a comb cleaner and is affiliated with the Innu people of Northern Quebec, Canada. It was collected by Rev. John M. Cooper near James Bay and donated to the museum in 1956 by the Catholic University of America.

 Rev. John M. Cooper, a long-time professor at CUA, taught and studied both religion and the social sciences. His interests led him to be affiliated at different times with the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution, The American Anthropological Association, and to found the Catholic Anthropological Conference (CAC) which promoted anthropological practices among missionaries who were tasked with collecting ethnological objects for Cooper.  

Explore more objects and images on our online database!

Collection Highlight E395278: Tump Line

One of the first words to come to mind when looking through the Innu objects in our collections is ‘colorful’! The Innu people, often referred to as ‘Montagnais’—the name given to them by French colonizers, continue to live in the region of Northern Quebec, Canada. Glass beads and a wide variety of pigments for dying textiles, some of which can be found in our collections in sample form, enabled the Innu to brighten up objects we may take for granted every day! This tump line is one example. Tump lines, also known as carrying strings or Nimaban in the Innu language Innu-aimun, are used by people in many cultures to transport large loads. The strings attach to each side of a basket or other package and are worn around the forehead to support the load hanging on the carrier’s back. These 3 Nimaban were collected by Rev. J. M. Cooper near James Bay, Quebec, Canada and donated to the museum in 1956 by the Catholic University of America.

Explore more objects and images on our online database!

Collection Highlight E89967: Paint Bone

At first glance, it isn’t obvious what this object might be used for. This tool, affiliated with the Innu (then known as the Naskapi) cultural group, served as a painting stick to decorate robes and other clothing. This particular paint bone was collected from Ungava Bay, Quebec, Canada by Lucien M. Turner and accessioned into the museum in 1884. This child’s buckskin coat is one example of the kind of painting that may have been done with such a tool!

Explore more objects and images on our online database!

Collection Highlight E10383: Narwhal Tooth Drinking-Tube

Intrepid explorer Captain Charles Francis Hall collected this Inuit drinking tube, carved from a narwhal tooth during one of three Arctic research expeditions he conducted during his lifetime. There are a number of objects in our collections that are made of or contain narwhal ivory. The material is very versatile and was used by the Inuit to make everything from belt buckles to decorative figures.

Motivated primarily by a desire to determine what became of Sir John Franklin’s 1840’s lost Arctic expedition, Capt. Hall initially headed north to find evidence of the crew’s fate. Along the way, and accompanied by a host of scientists and researchers, Capt. Hall interacted with Inuit people and collected both information and objects illustrative of indigenous life in the Arctic region. In 1865 Hall published an account of his first expedition, Life Among the Esquimaux: Being A Narrative of An Expedition In Search of Sir John Franklin In The Years 1860, 1861, and 1862, which offers an interesting look into the people and places Hall encountered on his first expedition, during which he discovered not Franklin’s expedition, but Martin Frobisher’s second while searching for a Northwest Passage to China.. Unfortunately, Capt. Hall’s final expedition was seemingly doomed—Hall himself died on board his ship off the coast of Greenland, and the remaining crew became stranded and were forced to shelter on an ice floe for over six months until being rescued.

  In total, Capt. Hall’s collection donated to the museum in 1871 consists of over 60 objects of various materials and purpose, collected in or near the Arctic. Capt. Hall’s endeavors invite us to think about how the motivations, resources, and practices behind the history of Arctic exploration shapes the knowledge we now have about the region and the peoples who have lived there successfully for centuries. Objects such as this seemingly non-descript drinking tube offer insights into how indigenous Arctic communities harvested and used materials, such as narwhal ivory, that are considered highly precious in other parts of the world.

To hear some Inuit perspectives on indigenous connections to the narwhal, check out our new exhibit “Narwhal: Revealing and Arctic Legend” which opened August 3rd!