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Stoney-Assiniboine novelties made for the tourist trade.

Native American beadworkers were resourceful. When times were hard, they put their ingenuity to good use to produce a range of souvenirs and novelties that would appeal to early tourists. Some of these beaded articles were traditional objects such as tobacco bags and moccasins. Many others were inspired by store-bought prototypes, including small purses and wall pockets, belts, gloves, and other items exemplifying a fusion of Euro-American and Native tastes.

The various examples of souvenir beadwork illustrated in this article were probably all produced by the Northern Assiniboines (Stoneys) of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. They were made for sale to support Native incomes from around 1900 onwards, and are particularly attractive items of beadwork. Located mid-way between Calgary and Banff, in close proximity to the Rocky Mountains and accessible by means of the Canadian National Railroad, the Stoneys of Morley Reserve were ideally placed to take advantage of the growing demand amongst early tourists for examples of Native workmanship. Ideally, such items needed to be small, compact, and easily transportable.

The finely beaded and fringed knife sheath illustrated in Figure 1 probably dates circa 1900-1920, a period representing the heyday of early tourism in the Rockies. It is made of smoked moose hide, the front fully beaded in couched overlay technique. The designs consist of bold geometric designs, vertically arranged, typical of beadwork from many groups in the region. The units are made up of smaller square blocks, creating a checkered effect. This is a common feature of beadwork from this area, commonly seen on shirt strips and many other articles of beadwork produced by the Stoneys, the Blackfoot and the Plains Cree.


The sheath measures 38.5 cm in maximum length. The bead colors include cranberry red, translucent dark blue and pumpkin orange, on a white background. The beads are of Venetian stock, small in size.

Figures 2A and 2B show front and back views of a charmingly beaded tea cosy--a rather unusual example of novelty beadwork. It measures 20.5 centimeters in height, 23 centimeters wide. Both front and back are decorated with solid couched overlay (spot stitch) beadwork, featuring bold geometric units, applied to canvas. A classic Northern Plains feature of the design in seen in the stacking of design units on the reverse side (Figure 2B). This composition would not look at all out of place on a late nineteenth century Northern Plains beaded gun case!



Bead colors employed are opaque red, dark blue, pumpkin orange and translucent green, on a while background. Beads are of Czech type, size 12/0, as favored by many Northern groups during this later period.

The tea cosy has a gusset, 5 centimeters in width, again fully beaded in couched (spot stitch) overlay technique. The gusset design consists of inter-connected diamonds made up of small square blocks on a translucent green background. It is lined with a check-patterned cotton cloth, green and mauve in color.

Figure 3 shows a group of items of beadwork made by the Stoneys at a similar period, all for sale to tourists. At the top of the photograph is a beaded bracelet made in the shape of a wristwatch; the other items are napkin rings, fully beaded in a style similar to the tea cosy! Again, bead sizes are relatively large (size 12/0 Czech).


The beaded gloves in Fig.4 were probably made for a lady or a child. The cuffs, beaded in couched overlay technique, feature stylized floral forms in opaque red and medium green on a white background. The beads are Czech, and extremely small in size.


The beaded tobacco bag illustrated in Figure 5A and 5B dates several decades later. Constructed of lightly smoked elk hide and measuring 60 cm in length, it is a contemporary piece made by Evangeline Rider at Morley Reserve in 1993. The beaded front panel is finely worked in couched overlay technique and features a bold diamond motif, flanked by chevrons. This design unit is typical of twentieth century Stoney beadwork. Bead colors consist of red, blues, yellow, gun metal and black, on a maroon red background. Brightly colored backgrounds such as this were popular with the Stoneys at Morley throughout the twentieth century. The beads are Czech, size 12/0, sewn with Nymo thread. The tobacco bag is identical to those used today by the Stoneys for their parades and other tribal gatherings.


Evangeline Rider, a prolific Stoney beadworker, is pictured with her grand-daughter in Figure 6, with the tobacco bag. It was purchased by the author from Freya's Collectibles at Banff, Alberta, in close proximity to the Stoney Reserve at Morley.



Green, Richard. A Warrior I Have Been: Plains Indian Cultures in Transition. Folsom, LA.: Written Heritage, 2004.

Green, Richard. "Northern Plains Men's Parade Regalia." Whispering Wind 34:2 (2004)

About the Author

Richard Green has had a life-long interest in Native American peoples. The author of numerous articles on the subject of Plains, as well as Great Lakes, Northeastern Woodlands, and Canadian Subarctic cultures, he works as Documentation Officer at Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, Birmingham, England. Here, in 2004, he curated an exhibition of reservation period Plains Indian art - A Warrior I Have Been - and authored an accompanying publication of the same title.
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Author:Green, Richard
Publication:Whispering Wind
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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