Indian Industries

Second session,
Wednesday night, October 16, 1901.

After the singing of some Scotch songs by Mrs. Hector Hall, the conference was called to order at 8 o’clock by the Chair. Mrs. F. N. Doubleday was introduced.

Indian Industries.

Mrs. F. N. Doubleday, New York. Let us begin where I left off last year, when I had been speaking to this conference about basket making and other Indian industries. Before I had reached the door Commissioner Jones came forward and wanted to know what could be done to preserve them; how there could be cooperation through Washington. Miss Keel has been trying to get basketry introduced into Government schools, and in two of the larger ones it is now practiced. The following story throws some light on the slow progress made elsewhere: A graduate of Columbia had been highly recommended by his professors for industrial training, and Miss Reel would gladly engage him, but when he found the salary for teaching Indians is only $600 a year, as there are more positions for from $900 to $2,000 in Eastern cities than Columbia can supply, the Indians are not likely to secure the best industrial teachers. There has been a beautiful spirit of cooperation in this work. A letter went from the Indian Office to the field matrons, urging them, as they went about among the tepees and wakeups, to do what they could to stimulate the old industries, and to prevent the women from using Germantown wool and aniline dyes, and to keep their work up to the old artistic standards. One matron writes that in six months the women on her reservation will have given up aniline altogether. It is already unpopular among the Indians, but unfortunately not among tourists. Most encouraging reports come in from various directions. People are becoming interested along different lines in the Indians’ work–artistic, scientific, philanthropic, commercial, patriotic.  A letter came to me from the president of the chapter of the daughters of the Revolution, in which she said : We women have been glorifying our ancestress, which is well, but it occurs to me that possibly we might serve our day and generation in as patriotic a way as they served theirs if we could help the Indian industries.” There are many ways in which help might be given. The Sunshine Society, with its hundred thousand members, has signified its interest promptly and practically. It has been sending help of a material kind through field matrons. Church fairs and women’s clubs have ordered Indian goods. Various shops in the large cities are opening Indian departments. There are Indian stores in different parts of the country. An already large demand for Indian wares is increasing, and this increased interest is evident by the unusual number of articles relating to them, which have appeared in periodicals and newspapers within this last year. Collections of baskets have been made by museums before, but apparently the collecting of Indian curios and handiwork by individuals is as much of a fad now as collecting old furniture or blue china. The ethnological interest in Indian arts and crafts has always been great among learned men, for the symbols that are embodied in the Indian handicrafts have a positive scientific value. The Indian had no literature, no architecture, no painting. They practiced none of the fine arts as we understand them, but all the aspirations of the tribe, all the spiritual and artistic inspirations of the people, went into the handicrafts of the women. They were the conservers and interpreters of the thought of their tribe, and that is being more generally recognized. The museums are now taking from their dry-as-dust corners the beautiful old baskets, rugs, weapons, canoes, and other things and giving popular lectures on them. In New York the American Museum of Natural History has given a series of lectures on Indian basketry alone, which attracted crowds of people. It was surprising how many turned out to hear about Indian baskets and the curious, interesting symbols on them.

Miss Collins spoke in an admirable way on the abolition of rations. It seems to me it would be an excellent thing to take some of the money now apportioned for rations to teach the people how to do without them, to give them industries by which they could feed themselves. Where seventeen women can earn $1,100 by bead work, as has been done this last year in one place, it seems as if from the basket making, which has a much wider range of usefulness, a great deal more money could be earned in a congenial industry.

There is opportunity for Indian industry in many other ways. For instance, the sugar-beet men in Colorado are very anxious to get Indian laborers, because intensive farming of small plots by means of irrigation the Indians learned from the Spaniards and can do well. An agent has been employed to go to Arizona to bring young Indians from the arid desert into the sugar-beet land of plenty. The general testimony is that they are the most satisfactory labor yet introduced.

The Indian Industries League has helped the industrial work of Mohonk Lodge, which had its origin here, and so has the Women’s National Indian Association. Some of you will remember how Mrs. Roe made an appeal to this conference two years ago for the work in Oklahoma, which she and her husband straightway under took. They opened the lodge, and took two returned students to live with them. They have been carrying on a magnificent work. Not only are they doing missionary work of a high order, but they are looking after both souls and bodies of the people. The beadwork industry of the Arapaho and Cheyenne women has been carefully fostered. Mohonk Lodge has sent some beautiful work here. Mr. and Mrs. Roe have adapted the Indian work to white people’s needs, but retained the old symbolism and artistic value. Funds are needed to carry on their work, which is important, not only in Oklahoma, but as a source of information and inspiration to friends of the Indians in many distant places. The sum of $650 would pay a teacher’s salary and living expenses. The Roes are so much rushed with developing the industrial side of their work that they must have another helper. I hope the incredibly small sum of money needed to advance their work will not be lacking this year.

Mrs. Candace Wheeler, of New York, who had charge of the women’s exhibit at the World’s Fair at Chicago, in 1893, was introduced as perhaps the foremost authority in this country as to what is worth perpetuating in Indian art.

Distinctive Elements In Indian Art Industries.

Mrs. Candace Wheeler, New York City. There is a very general idea that Indian industries have small trade value and, perhaps, less artistic value. It happens that my attention has been drawn to both sides of this question. The trade value is not only considerable now, but in proportion as we recognize the art of these industries, we shall find that it will increase until it will be a very important factor in the support and education of the Indian. The art that they have applied to their industries is, in many cases, absolutely unique. In two or three directions I think you will all recognize it. Perhaps the Navaho blanket is as good an illustration as I can give, and that, you know, from a technical point of view, is the best weaving that has ever been done in the world. It is the only weaving we know which will withstand the elements entirely. It will repel water, it will keep people warm in the coldest weather, and it will hold its color under all circumstances. The best of those blankets will bring from $125 to $150 in open market; and we can hardly find another variety of weaving, except Goblin tapestry, which has as much trade value. The art value in them is less than we find in articles that are not so materially useful.

I think the next instance would be in the Indian canoe. I do not know how familiar you may be with the Indian canoe from an art point of view. Last year I was on Puget Sound, and saw some of the old canoes which had been in use fifty or sixty years, carved out of redwood, 100 feet long, the borders stained in indelible colors in beautiful old Greek designs. No one knows how the Indian came to employ Greek designs, but there they are, the whole as symmetrical as an Etruscan vase, and almost deserving to be put under glass as specimens of absolute symmetry of form. These are scarcely made now even for the Indian’s own use, and I wondered why all the manufacture of canoes and it is a great fad among sporting men why that should all go to the white man instead of the original maker of canoes? Why cannot the Indian find employment in this direction and be encouraged? Why can not capital be used to set them up in making canoes, which should be as much of a fad as the best racing horses or the automobile?

There is another thing I am familiar with in a small way. The Indians use a material in embroidery which might find its place in modern art, and that is embroidery upon leather and birch bark with porcupine quills. Now the porcupine quill is rather an unusual material. It is exceedingly decorative used as the Indians use it. It makes embroidery that is absolutely indestructible. It would be beautiful used for altar cloths, for belts, for pockets, for almost any embroidery that is used for wear. It is not only in these directions that Indian art should be encouraged, but there are others. The Indian manipulation of leather, the dressing of leather, is as fine in its way as the celebrated Cordovan leather. These things belong to this people. They are absolutely theirs. It encourages in them the aesthetic, almost, I might say, the religious part of their nature, for I fully believe in the gospel of work with art. Art work seems to me to lift any people, to preserve them from barbarism, and I have felt for a long time, and am glad to have this opportunity of saying, that if more attention were paid to what the Indian has done, and what he can do, the Indian would be very much better off today, and we, as a people, would be much richer, both in art and revenue.


Board Of Indian Commissioners. Thirty-Third Annual Report Of The Board Of Indian Commissioners. Government Printing Office. 1901.

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