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Mic'kmaq Woman's Hood

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RTCFA No. NA1077
Mic'kmaq Woman's Hood
Artist: Unknown
Wool cloth, glass beads, silk ribbon, 6.75 x 8.5 in (17.2 x 21.6 cm).

Geographic Location: Nova Scotia
Region: Northeast

Description: Inhabiting North America’s northeastern reaches, the Mi’kmaq were among the first tribes to come into contact with Europeans in the early seventeenth century. French nuns brought Venetian glass beads, which could be easily applied to trade-cloth garments. These garments began to replace skin clothing and birch bark accessories decorated with quillwork. By the eighteenth century, a second flowering of Mi’kmaq decorative arts took form in collars, moccasins, men’s coats, and traditional women’s conical hoods decorated with fine beadwork. English explorers first described women's Mi’kmaq hoods of this type in the 17th century, yet few have survived because they were made of fragile materials. Decorative silk ribbons, highlighted with white beads, can be found along the edging and down the center of the hood. The double-curve motifs are typical and probably derive from ancient Mi’kmaq art. The exact meaning of the double-curved motif that decorates the surface of the hood is not certain; it may be a protective element, or refer to flowers or vines.

*Coe's wrote:* "These women’s hoods derive in general from the shape of Breton head coverings which were used on special occasions such as a /*Pardon*/. They are generally thought to be among the most beautiful of maritime Indian apparel and, like this one, are customarily beaded on each side by C-scroll (or double curved) elements, sometimes partially open as in the back of the hood seen here, which gives a more scroll-like effect, and also closed as in the front register of this example. Earlier examples tend to lack the interior, colored wheel and petal-like embellishments that are abundant within the larger, scroll design compartments, and give an aura of additional gaiety to the celebratory effect. There is some argument as to exact date of a piece like this one as it is difficult to correlate the exact progression of simplicity to elaboration among Micmac women’s taste preferences, or, to know how the progression of what was in or out of fashion varied among different Micmac groups. Two caps, placed side by side in Ruth Holmes Whitehead’s monograph /*Elitekey: MicMac Material Culture from 1600 AD to the Present*/, show the alpha and omega of these caps. The one on the left is elemental in its simplicity and is dated c. 1770-1790. The other, on the right, evidently known to have been made in 1909, has the additional bells and whistles of floral-like elaboration. Our example comes somewhere in-between, but closer to the side of elaboration. From the collector’s point of view, these elegant peaked caps, among the most beautiful and sentient productions of all Micmac women, are very much sought after because they rarely occur except in museums. I know of only two that have been sold within my collecting experience—one of these is in the Thaw Collection at Cooperstown (T291), and is dated c. 1870. It has a less developed elaboration than the present example, and therefore it would be tempting to date it somewhat earlier, c. 1860. At any rate, in today’s competitive American Indian collecting world, one cannot afford to be overly concerned with inner details versus outer concepts of design, as long as the core is good, solid, and exemplary." March 3, 2004