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Tuscarora Style Purse

Public Submission
Great Lakes Region
Mid-19th century
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
9.5 x 14
Materials & techniques
Glass beads; Beaded, sewn
Likely a woman of the Tuscarora Nation
Niagara Falls Museums, 992.D.177.004
Mid-nineteenth century cylinder or fist purse in the Tuscarora style of beadwork. Tuscarora women produced a style of raised, clear beadwork to sell to a market eager to acquire curiosities, especially First Nations items. This work became popular in the tourist area of Niagara Falls where fanciful versions of utilitarian objects were developed for the purpose of sale. Purses, bags, picture frames and pin cushions originally embellished with, natural, readily available materials (quill, hair and dyes) were enhanced with colourful glass beads supplied by European fur trade. A new livelihood emerged through the artistry of beadwork. This method of expression remains wildly popular today.

In 2015 the Niagara Falls Museums partnered with Six Nations of the Grand River to create “Discovering Kaná:ta”, a programme designed to explore the culture and history of the Haudenosaunee. Naomi Smith of Neyaashiinigmiing, Ontario was consulted as a First Nations traditional artisan and educator to recreate the purse as part of this reciprocal opportunity for learning.

In creating this piece I honoured the work of the Ancestors by keeping true to the methods and materials of the day. Since I hold the belief that other artists work should never be copied I made creative choices to the design that allowed the purse to have elements of my own artistic aesthetic within the visual narrative of the original piece.

After spending hours meticulously sewing on the crystal clear beads I was afforded a unique and very real perspective on how much time, effort and creativity was employed in making these beautiful objects.

So much can only be understood through the act of doing.

With the purse now safely delivered to the Niagara Falls History Museum I can delight in my small contribution to the Native art and history of the Niagara Region. I have also grown as an artist while embracing this awesome project.”

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