First American Art Magazine No. 11, Summer 2016 - Page 25

the sides of the piece were finished with tightly beaded edging, oftentimes accented with beaded loops and fringes. Whimsies were stuffed with various materials including straw, sawdust, and milkweed fluff. Despite their original intent or eventual moniker, what is so fascinating about whimsies is what they represent. For Iroquois women, they were a physical manifestation of their resilience, creativity, ingenuity, and business savvy. They represented survival through community efforts and gender equality; things that were so foreign to many other societies yet were the foundation of Iroquois democracy. Early History THE VICTORIAN AGE, with its rapidly expanding middle class, brought with it a huge boom in tourism. Travel, once only affordable to the upper class, was now accessible to the bourgeois masses. The whimsy was enormously popular among Victorian-era tourists, who were fascinated with their association with the lamentably, but not inconveniently, fading culture of Native peoples. The sparkling, beaded novelties were a must-have for travelers visiting areas around the Northeast, particularly Niagara Falls. Tourists longed for an authentic experience, something pure and unsullied by industrialization. For many traveling to and around North America, this experience entailed an encounter with the “noble savage,” a tragic icon of the rugged frontier. The Victorian era was highly nostalgic, and an Indian-made memento was a reminder of a bygone era—wild and untouched, like the raging waters of Niagara Falls. For Native people, years of war with colonies, disease, and the ongoing loss of land had taken a major toll, and traditional means of living were no longer sufficient to feed devastated communities. Since money was now the law of the land, “purse poor” Haudenosaunee communities were forced to find new ways to earn a living. Naturally, creating goods that could be sold to the waves of adventure-hungry tourists vying for a piece of their culture was a practical option. Beadwork was nothing new to the Haudenosaunee. For countless years before the arrival of European settlers, beads had been fashioned from quills, bone, pottery, and shells. Wampum, beads made from purple and white quahog clamshells, had been used to commemorate historical events such as treaties, strung in belts displaying symbolic motifs. Europeans brought large, glass beads from Venice to the Iroquois. However, by the mid-19th century, small seed and tubular beads made in the Bohemian town of Jablonec became the most popular beads among the Haudenosaunee. Although beads had been used to make jewelry and accent clothing worn within the community, items such as pincushions were first produced for outsiders.3 This indicates whimsies were made for the sole purpose of being sold, which naturally influenced their styles. Whimsy styles varied from one community to the next and changed over time. Mohawk Whisk Broom Holder, 189 , glass seed beads, sprengperlen, sequins, cloth, collection of olores lliot. sed with permission. Many of the earliest pieces found were made by the Seneca women in Tonawanda, most notably Caroline Parker (ca. 1826–1892), the sister of famed Seneca diplomat, Ely Parker. However, Seneca beadwork waned by the late 19th century. Caroline Parker, after marrying a Tuscarora chief, is said to have taught the women in his community how to bead the earlier floral designs. However, that idea is also disputed. Most whimsies came from the Tuscarora Nation near Niagara Falls, and from the Mohawks of Kahnawake near Montreal, who made tens of thousands of whimsies between 1850 and 1920. The Tuscarora, who started producing whimsies before the Mohawks, are often credited for producing the first raised or embossed floral beadwork around the 1850s, but the technique’s origin is not known for sure. Although whimsy styles evolved throughout the hundred-year span of their popularity, mid-19th-century composition and motifs have most influenced contemporary Iroquois sewers and are widely recognized as the defining style of Iroquois beadwork. With their proximity to Niagara Falls, the Tuscarora faced a widespread demand for their work. Every summer, 3. Historical photographs indicate that whimsies were used in Iroquois homes starting in the early 20th century. Beverly Gordon interviewed Mohawk and Onondaga people who remember seeing their g randmothers using beaded pincushions, whisk broom holders, and other whimsies in their homes. Beverly Gordon, “The Niagara Falls Whimsey: The Object as a Symbol of Cultural Interface” (doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1984): 310. S UMM E R 2 0 1 6 | 23