Native American

Wool Purse With Strap

Artist: Unknown
Culture/People: Dene
Place: Fort Providence, NWT
Media: Wool, beads, tufted moose hair, and commercial cotton lining
Dims: 9.5 x 11.25 in. (24 x 28.5 cm)
Date: c. 1990s
RTC No: NA0503
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


This stunning wool and moose hair-tufted purse is such a wonderful example of the incredibly specific artform of tufting moose or caribou hair that is practiced across Alaska and Western Canada. The Coe has a number of other tufted objects, ranging from delicate moccasins to framed scenes or floral patterns on velvet. Yet, this piece stands out as a functional accessory that holds the intimacy and intent of its maker.

Moose hair tufting is as much an aesthetic practice as it is a practical one as it puts to use parts of the moose that may not be used otherwise. Hairs from the moose’s rear and shoulders are collected. Then they are cleaned, sorted, and often dyed—either with natural or commercial dyes. Then the hairs are gathered into small bunches and stitched onto a backing of fabric or hide and pulled tight so that they puff up like a pompom. Finally, the hairs are carefully trimmed to form three-dimensional images.

This tufting on this purse is in a popular Dene floral pattern, adapted and expanded from early European floral embroidery – expressing an ongoing visual dialogue between cultures and eras. The application of the moose hair tufting onto the simple purse form enhances the appeal of both the purse and tufting. The sweet calico lining and simple orange border beading only further the tenderness of this piece. It feels like a piece that would be made for a granddaughter more than for an anonymous buyer—even as it was purchased from a trading post in Fort Nelson, British Columbia. Either way, it calls out to be used, handled, and loved.

See artist Melissa Shaginoff speak about this piece on Collections Spotlight.

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