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A Bag Worth a Pony: The Art of the Ojibwe Bandolier Bag.

A Bag Worth a Pony: The Art of the Ojibwe Bandolier Bag by Marcia G. Anderson. Minnesota Historical Society Press, Saint Paul, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-68134-029-6 (paper), 277 pp., paper, $34.95

Richly decorated bandolier bags were made and used by the Native nations of the Great Lakes region, notably the widely scattered Ojibwe peoples of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario, but also by neighboring tribes such as the Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) and Menominee.

Usually (though not exclusively) worn by men for ceremonial dances, the gashkibidaagan [1], as this style of beaded bag is called in the Ojibwe language, consists of a large rectangular cloth bag or panel with a broad shoulder strap. They were often worn in pairs, the straps crossing across the chest. Early examples, generally smaller in scale, were constructed on a heddle loom, with woven front panel and strap decorated with complex geometric designs, while later bags were made using the couched overlay (spot stitch or applique) technique, employing floral motifs in varying levels of complexity.

These impressive bags were produced in veiy large numbers, and the sheer volume of surviving examples represents a huge artistic achievement of the Native peoples of the region. So popular were they amongst the Great Lakes nations that they were traded with Plains tribes for horses and other trade items, hence the book's main title.

Just like the beaded bags that form the focus of this magnificent new study, Mareia G. Anderson's book A Bag Worth a Pony has clearly been a labor of love, presenting research carried out over several decades.

An introductory chapter discusses the history of the Great Lakes style bandolier bag, with its origins in a variety of earlier styles of hide pouches, some applied with quillwork decoration, their form perhaps inspired by European military bags and pouches with straps.

The second chapter analyses the different forms of construction and styles of decoration of the gashkibidaagan, including details of the main front panel, usually incorporating the bag compartment, the opening of which may sometimes be reduced to a small pocket at the top, though on some later examples being just a decorated panel serving no actual function other than as a decorative accessory.

Also described is the treatment of the strap, which may sometimes consist of two separate halves, though is frequently sewn together as a single, continuous band; and the various styles of woven tabs or bead-strung fringe decoration used along the lower edge of the main panel.

The choices of materials available to the Ojibwe makers of gashkibidaaganag is also studied, including a range of textile fabrics--woolen cloth, velvet, plain or printed cotton, bias binding for edgings, as well as the choice of glass seed beads, faceted sprengperlen and other beads obtained through trading outlets.

Chapter 3 goes on to discuss the rich repertoire of beadwork designs used, some traditional and age-old in origin, others influences by designs from other tribes or the non-Native world.

Geometric compositions and repeated linear border designs such as zigzags and so-called 'otter tracks' were important traditional motifs to the Ojibwe, with origins in twined fiber bags, and these forms of decoration persisted well into the twentieth century, while even early style woven bandolier bags sometimes borrowed from European textile design sources such as patchwork quilts. Bold floral motifs as used on the later, larger gashkibidaaganag were routinely observed by Native beadwork artists from the local flora, including vines, tendrils, American white water lily (Nymphaea odorata), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), and broad-leaf arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia).

Further chapters deal with the subject of bandolier bags in historic photographs, a great many examples of which are illustrated; and the marketing of Ojibwe beadwork by local businesses of the day, including trading posts, curio stores, county fairs and expositions.

The author goes on to present a series of reminiscences about gashkibidaaganag, and their role in Native communities, and the efforts of specific collectors, entrepreneurs and trading post owners to collect, preserve and even document these magnificent beaded artworks from a range of Minnesota Ojibwe reservations--Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, Red Lake, and White Earth. Included in this section are examples of bandoliers by contemporary makers, including Maude Kegg and Batiste Sam (Mille Lacs), Melvin Losh (Leech Lake), Ellen Olson and Mareie Mclntire (Grand Portage). In this respect, the art of making gashkibidaaganag is very much an ongoing Ojibwe tradition and looks set to continue well into the future.

This extraordinary 277-page publication is impeccably well researched, and lavishly illustrated throughout with a wealth of color images of some of the finest extant beaded bandolier bags in museum and private collections, and a mass of historic photos of bags in use, both indigenous and non-Native.

Focusing almost exclusively on the bandolier bag tradition produced by the Minnesota Objibwa communities, it prepares the ground for future research and, one would hope, similar studies yet to come of gashkihidaaganag from other U.S. states and also Canada. [1] The plural of gashkibidaagan is gashkihidaaganag.

Reviewed by Richard Green Birmingham, England
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Author:Green, Richard
Publication:Whispering Wind
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2017
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