Here's yet another topic I'm not an expert on, but I was prompted to write something up on this since I just viewed the most incredibly beautiful beaded Inuit capes at the Museum of Art in Denver, Colorado. I wasn't able to retrieve photos of these capes -- so I recommend you visit in person if you ever get the opportunity. As I was trying to find photos of something like them on the internet, I ran across this equally inspiring image. It is an intricately beaded Inuit amauti or tuilli (woman's parka) from the late 1890's or early 1920's. I find it breathtakingly beautiful! The parka is made of caribou skin and cloth, with glass beads, caribou teeth, and metal pendants. Regarded as a woman’s treasured possession, beadwork was sometimes gifted from mother to daughter or daughter-in-law, suggesting that the beadwork on this parka may date from a generation before, at the height of the whaling era. The creation of an accomplished seamstress and graphic artist, this is one of a small number of Inuit beaded parkas preserved in museum collections. Incorporating almost 160,000 beads, the seamstress has worked out an array of floral and anatomical designs, as well as geometric motifs, to decorate the parka’s front, hood, shoulders, and wrist cuffs. The parka is accompanied by a finely carved ivory needlecase (made of ivory and seal hide), as well as a hide carrying strap anchored by a pair of ivory toggles (caribou hide and ivory), used to secure a baby carried in the back pouch. Together, the parka, needlecase, and carrying strap provide an image of the creative and maternal role of women within Inuit society.
If anyone knows where to find and could share the 'button bead' type capes of the Inuit, I would welcome the help! Historically, Native American beads have been carved from natural materials like shells, coral, turquoise and other stones, copper and silver, wood, amber, ivory, and animal bones, horns, and teeth. Glass beads were not used until the colonists brought them from Europe 500 years ago, but like horses, they quickly became part of American Indian culture. Today glass beads, particularly fine seed beads, are the primary materials for traditional beaders of many tribes.