Loom-beaded bandolier bag, possibly Ojibwe or Potawatomi, Great Lakes region, late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
Alternate object name
Friendship bag; Shoulder bag
36 1/4"H x 12 1/4"W; Strap 5 1/4"W
Materials and techniques
Loom-beaded panel and strap; Spot-stitched beadwork; Cotton bag and strap; Cotton, military braid, and silk ribbon trim; Loom-beaded and yarn tassels
Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin
Bandolier bag with loom-beaded panel and strap. Bag and strap are backed with heavy, light brown cotton, layered with black cotton, and trimmed with blue military braid and black silk ribbon. There is no actual pocket in this bag. The bag's top section is composed of two narrow, black cotton sections. Top black section is undecorated with the exception of the white beaded border. The other black strip directly above the beaded panel forms a faux-pocket flap; it has blue trim and large, blue diamonds. Large loom-beaded panel design consists of eight serrated diamonds in two color palettes on a white ground: outer four diamonds are blue with black borders and yellow centers; inner four diamonds are green with red borders and yellow centers. Fourteen blue flowers or stars separate the diamonds. Pink and blue squares frame the sides, while yellow and blue triangles frame the top and bottom. Border around panel and bag consists of white beadwork in diamond and elongated hexagonal pattern, also known as an “otter tail” motif. Twelve loom-beaded tabs extend from bottom of the panel. Each tab includes a large brown bead and red and blue yarn tassel. Tabs repeat four geometric designs in blue, pink, red, yellow and black colors. Strap repeats the panel design elements but with a different color palette. Diamonds are yellow with black borders and blue centers; flowers or stars alternate between red and blue. The bottom three diamonds on the left side, however, are blue with black borders and yellow centers, adding a slight asymmetry to the composition. Ten tabs extend from bottom of panel. Four designs repeat twice, while the two center tabs have a unique design. Patterns include diagonal strips, stars, zigzag, diamonds, and squares in the colors used elsewhere in the bag.
Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, American Indians of the Great Lakes region used beads and cloth acquired through trade with Anglo Americans to create a new form--the bandolier bag. Made by women but typically worn by men as part of their ceremonial dress, these vividly colored and elaborately beaded bags were symbols of both personal status and tribal identity. The absence of a pocket confirms that this object was a sign of prestige, rather than a functional container.
Wisconsin Historical Society records indicate this bag as either Ojibwe or Potawatomi in origin. Features associated with Ojibwe bags include X designs, otter tail motifs, and asymmetrical patterns. Potawatomi bags often use small, repeated geometric designs; similar motifs on strap, panel, and fringe; and two narrow strips between panel and strap. While design features are useful tools in identifying bandolier bag origins, bags often demonstrate cross-cultural and intertribal influences. Bags were also frequently used as trade and gift items, which further complicates attempts to trace their history.
Marcia Anderson and Kathy Hussey-Arnston, “Ojibwe Bandolier Bags in the Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society,” American Indian Art Magazine 11:4 (Autumn 1986): 46-57; Richard Pohrt Jr., Bags of Friendship: Bandolier Bags of the Great Lakes Indians (Morning Star Gallery, 1996); Andrew Hunter Whiteford, “The Origins of Great Lakes Beaded Bandolier Bags,” American Indian Art Magazine 11:3 (Summer 1986): 32-43. Information compiled by Maggie Ordon, Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database intern, 2008.