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Octopus bags are used for tobacco, flint and steel and personal medicines. The earliest carrying bags and pouches were constructed of whole animal skins. These were worn folded over belts or suspended from the neck on netted vegetable thongs. With exposure to European military bandolier bags and trade cloth this style was lost and replaced by the trade cloth octopus bag which has tabs—the vestiges of an animals legs— while the opening represents the animals mouth. owever, the use of animal skin bags survives among the !idewiwin who carry beaded pouches made of otter pelts. The decoration on both the pelt and cloth bags reflects the !idewiwin priests reliance on plant life for the healing process. "ream imagery was also #uilled or beaded onto the pouches. The Earl of $outhesk %ollection at the &oyal 'lberta !useum. Octopus bags, also called fire bags were an essential element of a !(tis man)s wardrobe. They held tobacco, tinder, a smoking pipe, and other personal gear. They also were a formal dress accessory, worn tucked under the folds of a sash or suspended from a shoulder strap.
http*++www.royalalbertamuseum.ca+onlineExhibit+southesk+red&iver,fire-ag.cfm -y the ./01s, if not earlier, the octopus bag had become 2the most popular3 style of bag in !(tis communities across the northwest. %ertain conventions governed its design. The body, s#uare4shaped with rounded upper corners, was usually constructed of black or dark blue broadcloth5 brilliantly4coloured floral motifs executed in tiny seed beads stood out against this sober background. Each of the eight tabs was tipped with a fringe strung
with glass beads and a woolen tassel5 slender sinew fringes strung with glass beads fell between them. The bag)s edges were bound with silk or velvet ribbon and a row of white beads, sewn in a lace stitch along the outer edge. The $outhesk fire bag conforms to these conventions. 6n other respects, though, it is anything but conventional. !ary %hristie is believed to have given the Earl of $outhesk and elegantly beaded firebag 7with initials W8%9 during his visit to Edmonton. This artifact is presently in the $outhesk %ollection at the &oyal 'lberta !useum. !ost !(tis girls began to sew at an early age, and !ary $inclair)s earliest needlework lessons likely came from her mother or another female relative. :rom them, she would have absorbed design ideas and techni#ues consistent with !(tis and 'nishnaabe aesthetic traditions. While we cannot know for certain how !ary $inclair ac#uired sewing skills, purchases of silk thread, seed beads, and printed cottons recorded against William %hristie)s account in the :ortEdmonton account books show that she was an experienced needleworker %hristie, who designed this fire bag, worked with tiny seed beads in ;< distinct colours. $he produced a three4 dimensional effect by sewing the beads down over a paper foundation. The complex beadwork moves in multiple directions, creating an exuberant outburst of flowers, buds, leaves, and tendrils. =ater examples of !(tis floral beadwork generally feature a #uieter colour palette of pinks and greens. The artist who created this fire bag was boldly experimenting with colour, media, and techni#ue all at once. >ote the unusual strawberry motif on $ide -. The berries) seeds are represented by metallic seed beads. They)ve lost much of their brilliance with the passage of time, but would have sparkled when the fire bag was new.
The octopus bag shown below was owned by -% %hief :actor William Watt. William Watt 7./?14.@.A9 was one of five brothers from $tromness in the Orkney 6slands who Boined the udsonCs -ay %ompany in the mid4nineteenth century. 8ames, William and
'lexander built successful careers within the %ompany. Thomas and %harlesCs careers with the %ompany are less well4documented and were seemingly rather shorter. "escribed by his -% contemporary, 6saac %owie, as a 2fighting man3 and 2an ardent sportsman DwhoE had lost an arm in pursuit of game3, William Watt began his career with the -% aged .A. is first posting was as an apprentice clerk at $ault $te !arie, and over the next thirty years he rose through the %ompanyCs ranks, eventually becoming a :actor and a shareholder. Watt certainly earned his wealth. e was fre#uently based at small posts, such as :ort Fitt in the $askatchewan "istrict, which were located at great distances from &ed &iver and other Euro4%anadian settlements. e witnessed and participated in the processes of colonialism that constrained the lives of 'boriginal people in the emerging nation of %anada. is letters to his parents and sisters, which have been preserved by his family, indicate that despite challenging working and living conditions, Watt embraced his lifestyle and the opportunities for adventure.
G On loan to $tromness !useum from The Hing :amily. Fhotograph courtesy Orkney =ibrary and 'rchive This bag has different floral designs on each side. ' vase filled with roses decorates one surface, while the other shows a second vase with styliIed leaves and flowers, some of which resemble thistles. The style and choice of designs suggest that the bag was most likely made by a woman of %ree heritage around the ./A1s. Octopus bags like this were available in the &ed &iver settlement, which William Watt would have visited at this
time, but he could e#ually have ac#uired it through trade at another post or by some other means. William Watt made no reference to his collection in any of his letters home, and so it seems likely that he brought these items back with him to Orkney when he retired. They remained on display in WattCs home, olmlavoe, for almost one hundred years until they were loaned to the $tromness !useum by family members.
Ellen Jnderwood. 2Octopus -ag,3 ./A14.//1, in Fenimore Art Museum, T1.<., http*++collections.fenimoreartmuseum.org+items+show+@A1. Wasco+Kakima Octopus bag attributed to Ellen Jnderwood 7Taswatha9
:ile %atalog Entry* Octopus -ag 'ttributed to Ellen Jnderwood DTaswathaE 7./0@4.@1/9 Wasco+Kakima ood &iver, Oregon c. ./A14.//1 Llass beads, tanned buckskin, wool stroud, cotton fabric and thread .0 ?+0M l. x A ?+/M w. T.<. &ichard Fohrt %ollection, :lint, !ichigan5 !orning $tar Lallery, $anta :e !eriwether =ewis and William %lark in ./1<4A were the first to report the established use of bead decoration by >ative peoples of the Flateau and %olumbia &iver areas. Their reports mention the most fre#uent use of white MponyM beads, along with other colors, sparely applied and probably ac#uired by trade with both coastal and more interior groups 7Logol .@/<, p. A9.
-y the middle years of the .@th century, %olumbia &iver and Flateau region artists had begun to employ glass bead embroidery, spot4stitched in contour style, in the decoration of flat, trade4cloth bags. These men)s personal4effects bags bore relationships to those rectangular bags that had traditionally been made on the plateau of hemp and corn husk fiber, as well as to geometric and floral4designed cloth bags brought into the area by 6ro#uois and 'lgon#uian peoples who worked for the udson)s -ay and >orthwest fur4 trading companies 7Logol .@/<, pp. A4@9. The importation of new materials, forms and techni#ues no doubt influenced all the #uill and bead4working women of the region, but none perhaps so uni#uely as two Wasco artists, !umshumsie and her daughter Taswatha, later known as Ellen Jnderwood 7$chlick+"uncan .@@., pp. 0.4009. These women adapted the kinds of geometric designs that were traditional to the Wasco twined4hemp bags into an entirely new media and bag form, yielding hybrid constructions such as this beautifully made example. !umshumsie attended school at :ort Nancouver in the ./?1s, where she would have become familiar with bead4decorated panel bags in use among the men of eastern >ative groups engaged in the transportation of goods and traders for the fur companies. $ome udson)s -ay %ompany men were married to >ative women from eastern woodlands nations, including %hief :actor 8ohn !c=oughlin, whose wife was $wiss and OBibwa. These women brought with them their familiar techni#ues of beadworking as well as the influence of differing bag designs that had evolved in their home areas. ' particular group of retired -% families, who came from the %ree and %ree+!etis territories near the &ed &iver area in !anitoba, settled in the %lackamas &iver area near the winter camp of !umshumsie)s family. There the %ree and !etis styles of octopus and panel bags might have challenged the creative imaginations of these Wasco weavers and beaders 7$chlick+"uncan .@@., pp. 0.4009. The particular northern Woodland development known as the tradecloth MoctopusM bag had evolved by the ./01s, perhaps from very early skin bags in which the four legs of the animal were retained as decorative drops from the bottoms of the bags 7"uncan .@/@b, pp. @.4@?9. Though this uni#uely Wasco example features five such drops instead of the usual four pairs that are responsible for the name octopus bag, the length, proportion, bifurcated ends and large4beaded fringes of these pendant panels are the same as on the typical octopus bags and make their inspiration clear. The geometric designs of men, women, stars, and the Iig4Iag lines on the drops, however, are all native to the Wasco tradition. ' number of documented as well as additional attributed examples of !umshumsie and Taswatha)s woven beadwork exist that demonstrate the direct adaptation of the designs of Wasco root bags to these hybridiIed, elaborate Mdress4wearM bags. 't least three other octopus4style bags survive from !umshumsie and Taswatha)s hands, as well as a number of panel bags that exhibit the same Wasco style of geometric images, including men, women, elk, deer, horses, dogs, birds and fish. Octopus bags from the northern interior usually feature European4inspired floral designs rendered in overlay4 style bead embroidery rather than the interwoven, full4beaded techni#ue employed by !umshumsie and Taswatha. The floral4designed bags spread across the northern
continent and made their way to the coast via the $huswap, Tahltan, and other groups who traded with coast4living peoples. The %anadian and 'laska Tlingit inherited the octopus bag style in the last #uarter of the .@th century and evolved their own distinctive versions of the floral patterns that continue to be made today. $chlick and "uncan $ummer .@@., p. ?O Frovenance* 7.9 &ichard Fohrt. :lint, !ichigan.5 7;9 !orning $tar Lallery. $anta :e, >ew !exico.5 7?9 Eugene N. Thaw. The Tlingit octopus bag shown below is done in motifs that resemble kelp.
%ompiled and Edited by =awrence -arkwell %oordinator of !etis eritage and istory &esearch =ouis &iel 6nstitute
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