Native American

Child’s Vest

Artist: Unknown
Culture/People: Omaha (attrib.)
Place: Eastern Plains
Media: Hide, beads, and cloth
Dims: 10.5 x 14.25 in. (26.67 x 36.2 cm)
Date: c. 1880
RTC No: NA1115
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


“Wow! Somebody Must Have Really Loved That Child!”

I have been thinking lately about this small child’s vest in our collection. It is a very finely made vest; as a beadworker friend said the first time she saw it, “Wow! someone loved that child!” The front of the vest has exquisite lines of beads in a broad assortment of colors. If you take a moment to dissect the colors and lay them out side by side it is surprising to see how the colors do not work well together. But the maker’s intertwining of them in carefully constructed rows, carefully choosing bead color adjacencies creates an order from which a beautifully arranged pattern emerges. But while the beadwork is marvelous, it is the chickens (!) on it that brought the exclamations about the vest –“what a lucky child!” —Bruce Bernstein, Cheif Curator, Director of Innovation

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The vest would have been made as a very special gift for a boy chief or a dignitary’s son whose social importance required emphasis in display. The result was this fully beaded vest with a child’s bestiary scene (of four rooster and three pert lambs) depicted on the back and a colorful and unique armorial display emphasizing the child’s high social rank against a solid white beaded background with colorful rope-like borders symmetrically placed with brightly beaded symbols of the four directions set on the front the vest. Over a century later, we cannot help but wonder what his doting parent intended with such elaboration and high style. This child’s vest I attribute to the eastern edge of the Plains, influenced by not only Plains motifs but by a certain elegance of beadwork style that contains still a hint of the Great Lakes tradition of decorative beadwork. The best attribution in my opinion until more concrete information might come to light would be a provisional association with the Omaha tribe. —Ted Coe

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