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Man's painted caribou hide coat dating to the early 1800s. Aesthetically speaking, this coat is a unique example of design and decoration to other coats we have studied that are currently held in museum collections in North America and Europe. Our local research, with Elders and knowledgeable community members, have identified the following points that indicate the way this coat is innovative in the execution of the design: the sleeve length extends past the shoulder, which is how Cree elders said their mothers made sleeves; the painted design curves at the top chest and the bottom of the coat; the circular symbol on the chest may represent the symbol that shows where a spirit enters, usually this is at the top of the head, on a hat; the circular symbol is used by both Cree people and Mi'kmaq; the triangles have meanings related to gender of the wearer; the double curves on the back are very distinct, usually they are not depicted in this way; the back panel insert is painted beyond the panel which is unique compared to other coats we have studied. Overall this coat embodies great technical accomplishments and our cooperative artisanal tradition - from the hunting of the caribou in the season when the hide is thin and undamaged by parasites; to the sourcing of the organic material for the paints at the appropriate season; to the lengthy process of fixing the hide; to the creation of the tools for the paint application; to laying out the pattern and preparing the pieces for assembly; to the preparation of the sinew for stitching the garment together; to receiving the inspiration for the designs, which are unique to each hunter and artist and to the final creation of the coat, with matching accessories (lost for this coat but known for others). This coat undoubtedly displays symbolic and ceremonial dimensions, but these are knowable only to the creator. Interpreting designs is often the subject of research by people from outside the communities, but within the Cree community, we know that designs are highly personal and individual, and should not be interpreted.
This painted coat is associated with Indigenous communities in Northern Quebec and Labrador, primarily the Cree, Innu-Montagnais and Naskapi peoples. At the time the coat was created, these communities lived on the land, with overlapping hunting territories and cultural traditions. Divisions that were introduced by colonialism, including reference names for groups of the local inhabitants, are not part of the traditional way of life in this region. This coat represents the eras of colonial extraction in this region, as it was presumably taken to the UK by a trading ship operated by Hudson's Bay Company.
Unique Number :
2019.07.01
Collection :
Core Collection
Object Name(s) :
COAT,
Associated Person :
William Stokes; ( Former Owner )
C. Mitchell;
Associated Organization :
Leeds Museum
Material(s) :
Caribou Hide Skin Animal, Pigment, Animal Sinew
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