Art of the Gwich'in

The Gwich'in are renowned beaders and sewers. Traditional clothing is made mostly from tanned caribou hide and sometimes moose. Skin preparation is a lengthy process. First the flesh and hair are scraped from the hides. Then they are repeatedly washed and soaked in a solution that includes caribou or moose brains, which softens the leather and makes it pliable. Between washings, the skin is wrung out and stretched which also helps to soften it. Finally, the hide is slowly smoked over a fire that preserves it and gives a distinctive soft brown colour and warm, smoky smell.

 

Before European traders introduced glass beads, clothing was decorated with dyed porcupine quills. Sometimes, shells were obtained through trade and strung into necklaces or used to adorn clothing.

 

When beads became available as trade items, Gwich'in women incorporated them into traditional patterns and made beautiful new ones. The beads are often sewn to a fabric backing such as felt before being stitched onto the garment itself.

 

These garments are highly prized and worn at special events such as gatherings and weddings. 

Ellen Bruce tanning hides. Note the wash tubs for soaking and washing. There is a hide in the process of being wrung out on the right of the photo. 

VG, Diquemare Collection

Below are many fine examples of Gwich'in art and handicrafts from the personal collection of Beth-Ann Exham

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© 2016 Old Log Church Museum

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Caribou Hide Chasuble

This fine vestment was made for Rev. Kenah Exham by the women of Old Crow.

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