In the 1800s, Native Americans began to produce objects to sell to tourists to support themselves while living on reservations. The most popular items were European styles made using traditional materials, and often contained symbolic icons from both cultures.
This vest was made by a member of one of the Sioux tribes and dates to the mid-to-late 18th century or early 20th century. There are several different tribes of Sioux – for example the Lakota and the Dakota – unfortunately, we don’t know which particular tribe this vest came from.
In the 1800s the U.S. government systematically rounded up Native American tribes – removing them from their traditional lands – and placed them on reservations. The conditions on the reservations were harsh to say the least. In order to support themselves, people living on the reservations began to produce objects for sale, mainly to tourists making the “Grand Tour” through the western United States.
While using traditional methods and materials, the artisans realized that they could make the objects more attractive to tourists if they made objects in the style of other cultures or use symbolic icons from other cultural groups. For example, the tribes native to the northeastern U.S. began making women’s purses in the style of Victorian ladies purses using traditional beading techniques. In this case, we see that the artisan incorporated both horses – which were extremely important to the Plains Indians former nomadic way of life – and the American flag which represents the United States. Therefore, the vest represents a theoretical amalgamation of the two cultures, a concept which did not exist in reality.
The vest is part of the Pearsall Collection. This collection represents a very important donation in the history of the Florida Museum of Natural History, as it convinced the National Science Foundation to support the construction of Dickinson Hall.
Florida Museum of Natural History
Made by Sioux people, Great Plains, U.S.
Dates to ~ mid-to late-19th or early 20th century