Beadwork

“Little Spirits on a Thread”

Swampy Cree and Ojibway beadwork and embroidery such as the examples seen here are some of the most beautiful artifacts in the Thunder Bay Museum’s collections. Pouches, patches, belts, bags sashes and aprons form the bulk of the holdings but some pieces are as big as table clothes.

Most of these items were collected by one man, Anglican Archdeacon Richard Faries who, from 1899 to about 1950, was a missionary to the Cree Indians in a large region centred on York Factory on Hudson Bay. In payment for services such as medical care, baptisms and marriages, Faries collected the beadwork and embroidery done by the local women. He also, for a time, sought to aid the poor economy of the region, particularly among the aboriginal people of his parishes, by stimulating a demand for these marvelous creations in southern markets. Unfortunately he had little success. His own love for this art form is evident in the care he gave to his own personal collection, most of it surviving from the early twentieth century in pristine condition. The Richard Faries collection is composed of about 1,000 pieces, all of similar quality to that shown here.

A second collection concentrates on Ojibway beadwork in the region around Thunder Bay. Though much smaller in size than the Faries collection, and quite different in design and character, the Ojibway beadwork, in particular a heavily beaded series of bandolier bags, is some of the most stunning in existence.

Seed beads on leather surrounded by rabbit fur Patch. Seed beads on leather surrounded by rabbit fur. Swampy Cree manufacture, circa 1915. Richard Faries Collection
Embroidery on leather surrounded by rabbit fur Patch. Embroidery on leather surrounded by rabbit fur. Swampy Cree manufacture, circa 1915. Richard Faries Collection
Embroidered patch on chamois Embroidered patch on chamois. Swampy Cree manufacture, circa 1915. Richard Faries Collection
Patch showing fine embroidery on chamois Patch showing fine embroidery on chamois. Swampy Cree manufacture, circa 1915. Richard Faries Collection
Fine embroidery floral pattern on chamois Patch. Fine embroidery floral pattern on chamois. Swampy Cree manufacture, circa 1915. Richard Faries Collection
Seed beads in floral pattern on heavily beaded background. Seed beads in floral pattern on heavily beaded background. This is a detail of a much larger pouch. The bead pattern here is similar to Ojibway bandolier bags in the Museum’s collection. Ojibway manufacture, circa 1930
Seed beads on a leather pouch in a Swampy Cree design, circa 1915 Seed beads on a leather pouch in a Swampy Cree design, circa 1915. Much of the Faries collection is made up of pouches of this nature. These were designed to hang on a wall to hold small items such as letters. Faries attempted to stimulate a demand for practical yet beautiful objects such as these, but could not at the time find a ready southern market. Richard Faries Collection
Cree moccasin, embroidered with fine thread. Cree moccasin, embroidered with fine thread. The Faries collection contains moccasins of many different designs, both embroidered and beaded. In its construction the Cree moccasin is very different from the Ojibway. Richard Faries Collection
Embroidered deerskin glove edged with muskrat fur Embroidered deerskin glove edged with muskrat fur. Swampy Cree manufacture, circa 1915. Richard Faries Collection
Embroidered fire bag

Embroidered fire bag. Ojibway manufacture, circa 1940. Detailed view of the embroidery pattern.

Seed beads in circular pattern on leather patch. Seed beads in circular pattern on leather patch. Swampy Cree manufacture, circa 1915. Richard Faries Collection
Seed beads in circular pattern on wool and cotton with paper backing for support

Patch. Seed beads in circular pattern on wool and cotton with paper backing for support. Swampy Cree manufacture, circa 1915. Richard Faries Collection

Belts made of seed beads by the Swampy Cree of York Factory area, circa 1915. Belts made of seed beads by the Swampy Cree of York Factory area, circa 1915. Both geometric and floral patterns were used though the geometric was more common. Richard Faries Collection