Daily Art Moment: Nez Perce artist

Image description: Doll, Nez Perce artist, hide, beads, cloth and hair, 12 x 7 3/4 x 1 1/8 inches. A cloth doll clothed in a beaded hide dress with dark brown hair in pigtails. The doll’s creamy tan face shows wear and has beaded features. Single black beads sandwiched between two white beads compose the eyes, two black beads make up the nostrils and a longer line of red beads topping a shorter row make the mouth. Brown hair is gathered in two pigtails with yellow beads on either side of the head. The doll’s arms stand straight out from the body and have rounded ends representing hands. The doll wears a long hide dress in the same creamy tan as the body that has fringed cuffs and hem. A bright blue beaded necklace with four long peach and white shells is stitched around the neck. A sky-blue beaded belt with long ties wraps around the waist. Two bright blue beaded patches at the hips have hide tassels. Alternating yellow and black beaded diamonds appear just above the fringed hem. The doll wears hide leggings embellished with sky-blue beads and moccasins beaded in yellow and bright blue. The doll appears worn and much loved.

With the school year beginning, I began to think about children and how objects such as dolls are so universal. This Nez Perce doll was surely made for children in the image of women in her community. The clothing is composed of the same materials her relatives wore: soft hide for the dress, leggings, and moccasins, all sparingly embellished with blue and yellow trade beads. She also wears a tiny blue necklace with little shell ornaments. The doll’s hair is styled into two pigtails and her face is represented with beads for the eyes, nose, and mouth. She must have been well-loved; the dirty surface of a beloved stuffed animal, doll, or blanket, is familiar evidence of a child’s favorite toy. While some Native American artists today, such as Rhonda Holy Bear (Cheyenne River Sioux) create spectacular beaded dolls with incredible details for us to admire, such as her “Lakota Honor-Sees the Horses Woman,” which won Best of Show in the 99th Annual Santa Fe Indian Market this year, this one was made to live in the hands of a lucky child over a century ago.

Kathleen Ash-Milby, Curator of Native American Art

Nez Perce artist, Doll, ca. 1880. Hide, beads, cloth, and hair. The Elizabeth Cole Butler Collection, 2012.67.29

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