The special exhibit “Wearing Our Heritage” offers rare opportunity to see clothing worn by Abenaki men and women of earlier generations. Abenaki scholar and activist Frederick M. Wiseman has gathered original garments and accessories to assemble representative outfits like those worn by Abenaki men and women before 1850 as well as outfits for a man and a woman during in the 1900s through 1920s. The exhibit also includes examples of accessories such as moccasin tops, collars, head bands, needle cases and pouches.
The items in this exhibition were brought together through a decades-long process of research and discovery, and reveal a fascinating combination of local and international origins. For example, a necklace from a Central Vermont estate has a beaver pendant with the hallmark of Montreal silversmith Robert Cruickshank, suspended from a necklace of early nineteenth century trade beads that probably came from Africa.
Very few examples of work clothes are found in collections because they were worn out in heavy use, then handed down, and even the rags were re-used. Little remained even to be discarded, much less preserved. The man’s outfit from 1780-1850 includes a long, tunic-like linen shirt from Central New Hampshire with brass buttons dating from the War of 1812 era; eighteenth century moose hide leggings converted into trousers ca. 1810 at a farm in Lamoille County, Vermont; a wool trade blanket from Stowe; and an Assumption sash of finger-woven linen in an “arrow sash” pattern popular in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. The woman’s outfit of this early era includes a hand stitched linen chemise; an “arrow sash” of finger-woven wool from Machias, ME; an early/mid 19th century mirror case of deer hide with porcupine quill and bead decoration; and an 18th/early 19th century “Montreal Cross” pendant necklace.
The second pair of outfits date from the late nineteenth century up to 1920. On garments of this era, fringes of cut cloth recall earlier clothing styles. A beautiful woman’s dress of cotton cloth from White River Junction, Vermont includes banded panels and yoke with geometric designs that echo mid-19th century Wabanaki applique work. The early 20th century man’s cut-cloth-fringe coat, headdress and leggings was used by Abenaki basket makers who lived in Essex Junction, Vermont and sold their wares on the Lake Champlain Islands.
The exhibit also includes examples of accessories from the late eighteenth century to mid-twentieth century. Early accessories include a brass bracelet probably fashioned from the rim of a cooking kettle in the eighteenth century; and a deer hide pouch, ca. 1780, decorated with porcupine quill embroidery, tin cones, beads, and dyed hair which served as a “pocket” for the wearer. A silver nose-ring and a trade brass hair ornament date to the early nineteenth century. Later pieces in the exhibit reflect the growing market for American Indian beadwork among tourists. Beadwork styles from the Midwest and Niagara area spread into the Northeast, appealing to some people as souvenirs and to others as markers of Native identity. A mid-nineteenth century velvet reticule and an early twentieth century “Princess Crown” with Niagara style beadwork represent this era.