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Late Nineteenth-Century Sioux Buckskin Doll

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432.     [NATIVE AMERICAN ARTIFACT]. Sioux buckskin doll with bead work, late nineteenth-century. Female doll with hide head and muslin body. Height: 50 cm. Dress is made of traditional hide with thread and sinew sewn, fringed trim on sides, yoke, cuffs, and hem of dress with lanes of multicolored beadwork on the belt, shoulders, hem, and moccasins. Beadwork decorating the belt uses three bands of translucent gold beads incorporating geometric designs in translucent forest green, pale sky blue, and transparent deep red. On the scalloped skirt hem is a rolled edge beadwork lane of lavender, a very dark navy blue, and translucent gold. The shoulders’ rolled edge beadwork single band uses a dark green, translucent gold and translucent deep red. The over-the-knee hide moccasins use lavender, translucent navy blue, and greasy yellow beads in strands to cover the upper moccasins; three bands of translucent gold beads incorporating white geometric patterns are used around the leggings. Doll’s right ear is adorned with one double shell loop earring joined on thread by an iridescent glass bead, and divided below by a drilled metallic ball. Similar iridescent red and blue glass beads form a necklace attached in the back with shell button. Doll wears a commercial cloth under-dress of green cotton gingham with small white dots. The muslin under-dress was worn underneath the hide dress for comfort (Lenz, Stuff of Dreams, p. 42). Dark blue and white beads are stitched for eyes and mouth, pink paint has been applied to the cheeks, remnants of horsehair remain on top of head. Worn and evidence of some exposure to water. Provenance: Adam A. Weschler & Son (Washington), Auction October 3-6, 1974.

     To respect both nature and the animal, all Native American beadwork was done on the grained outside—the natural side—of the animal so that garments were worn the way the animal wore its hide: flesh side in, hair side out (Monture, Beadwork, p. 10). Edge beading is an important and necessary finishing or joining technique. The rolled edging creates a solid firm border around an edge (Monture, Beadwork, pp. 47-48). Of the colors used on this doll, the yellow is of particular interest. The yellow is so rich as to have a deep, buttery quality, hence today the color of these beads are referred to as “greasy yellow” (Monture, Beadwork, p. 22). The process of stringing a bead reveals the joyous event of Creation by building up a dissimilar part into a unified whole; thereby celebrating life (Monture, Beadwork, p. 2).

     Some Native American dolls are pristine which suggests that they were created to sell or were used for show (Lenz, Stuff of Dreams, p. 6); however, this doll is so worn as to suggest it actually functioned as a play item. Accounts of Plains life, which included the Sioux tribe, make it clear that doll play was an integral part of childhood. In most Plains groups, girls six or seven years old played with dolls that were quite realistic, the majority of cloth or buckskin. Plains dolls often wore materials acquired in bead and cloth trade. Among most Plains tribes, boys would also join in a favorite game of “playing camp.” Children were familiar with the cycle of breaking camp, moving to a new location, and then setting up again; the girls were given toy tepees which with to play. While the girls arranged their dolls around these tepees, the boys played at going hunting. (Lenz, Small Spirits, pp. 59-63). In addition to modeling the roles of men and women in Native American societies, dolls may also symbolize fertility (Lenz, Stuff of Dreams, p. 15). Dolls, in addition, could represent ideals. If the doll represents humanity, and if by using one’s imagination the doll has a personality, then perhaps the doll can be really alive. For indigenous peoples, the meaning and importance of dolls is enhanced by the belief central to Native American life that culturally significant items posses their own spirits (Lenz, Stuff of Dreams, pp. 17-18).


Sold. Hammer: $1,800.00; Price Realized: $2,160.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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