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«Treatment and Technical Study of a Lakota Beaded Hide Ledoux, ANAGPIC 2010, 1 Abstract This paper discusses the conservation and technical study of a ...»

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Nicole Ledoux

UCLA/Getty Conservation Program

Treatment and Technical Study of a Lakota Beaded Hide

Ledoux, ANAGPIC 2010, 1


This paper discusses the conservation and technical study of a Lakota (est.) beaded hide

object in very poor condition. The piece, whose original function is not known, was reported as

collected in the late 19th or early 20th century by John Anderson, a photographer living on the

Rosebud reservation in South Dakota. It was passed down through family lines until it was recently donated to the UCLA/Getty conservation program. At some point in its history, the piece suffered liquid damage that has drastically altered more than half of the hide area, causing darkening, embrittlement, and fragmentation, as well as damage to the associated beadwork, including localized staining resulting in part from bead corrosion. In order to better understand these alterations and their implications for conservation treatment, a technical study has been undertaken that includes both morphological characterization and materials analysis of the hide and tannins. Continued work has included identification of bead composition and characterization of the various alteration products, as well as consultation with tribal and museum experts about original function and appropriate loss compensation. This object provides an interesting case study for investigating the deterioration of hide and the approach taken in treating such significantly altered material.

1. Introduction This paper discusses ongoing work studying and treating a circular beaded hide with fringe that is in very poor condition. This piece (Figures 1 and 2) suffered severe damage at some point in its history that appears to have involved contact with liquid, resulting in losses, fragmentation, and alteration of over half of the hide area. The technical study undertaken aims to determine the nature and possible sources of this alteration, and to better characterize and document the materials used in its fabrication. The information gathered through this research, in combination with insights gained through consultation with tribal and museum experts, has placed this piece in a larger context and informed approaches to its conservation treatment, which is currently underway.

2. Historical and Cultural Context The development of the Plains beadwork tradition dates back to the introduction of European-made glass beads to the region through trade in the early 19th century. Prior to this Ledoux, ANAGPIC 2010, 2 Figure 1: Front of circular beaded hide before treatment.

Dimensions = 62 cm (max. diameter) x 1 mm (average thickness) Figure 2: Back of circular beaded hide before treatment.

Ledoux, ANAGPIC 2010, 3 period, decorative embroidery used primarily dyed quills. Beadwork built upon this tradition of quill embroidery, and this influence can be observed in the banded patterning used in Plains beadwork designs. A variety of hide objects were commonly beaded, including pipe bags, clothing, and moccasins. The style of beadwork and types of glass beads used can often be helpful for dating beaded materials (Lyford 1940; Conn 1986).

Unfortunately, there is only a limited amount of background information available about the circular beaded hide discussed here. It was donated to the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program by the grandnephew of John Anderson, a photographer that lived on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota (Figure 3) during the late 19th to early 20th centuries (Hamilton and Hamilton 1971). The piece is reported to have been passed down through family lines, and was recently rediscovered in a trunk which contained other Plains Indian items. Anderson was known to have accepted cultural items as compensation for the goods that he sold on the reservation (Thornton 2007), but little else is known about its origins and there is no accompanying documentation.

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To find out more about the possible origin and function of this object, the published literature and online museum catalogues were searched for comparative examples, but with little success. Most of the information gathered about this piece has derived from correspondences with Lakota members and museum curators with expertise in Plains Indian art. These consultants provided many suggestions regarding the possible use or function of this piece, ranging from a Ledoux, ANAGPIC 2010, 4 tablecloth, to a parasol cover, to a teepee door (see Figure 4 and Table 1). However, the general consensus was that this piece is a product of the blending of native and European styles that emerged with the establishment of the reservation system in the latter half of the 19th century. It was likely made for sale as a tourist souvenir or as an item to furnish new types of living spaces.

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The transitional nature of this piece complicates assigning a cultural attribution. It was initially assumed that since this piece was acquired by a resident of a Lakota reservation, that it was likely made by a member of this cultural group. However, two Lakota members, Emil Her Many Horses, curator at the National Museum of the American Indian, and Steven Tamayo, a Rosebud regalia-maker, felt that this design is atypical for a Lakota piece. The design elements repeat in multiples of three and six, unlike Lakota patterns that repeat in multiples of four or seven. Also, floral designs were more common in the Eastern Sioux and Great Lakes regions than in the Central Plains, though they were executed in a less abstracted and geometric style (Conn 1986). The fact that this beaded hide object seems to defy the conventional styles of any particular tribal group may explain the lack of similar examples in the published literature, since these types of hybrid objects, though fascinating, are difficult to classify and are therefore rarely published.

Ledoux, ANAGPIC 2010, 6

3. Technical Study

3.1 Materials and Fabrication Techniques The hide is composed of five separate pieces: the circular center and four equal lengths of fringe (Figure 5). The seams between these elements were sewn with cotton thread. The beadwork was executed using the lane stitch (aka lazy stitch) technique that is common in Plains beadwork. This technique creates patterns by securing beads in parallel rows, each composed of one long stitch with multiple beads (Lyford 1940). Sinew was used as the beading thread, though small cotton thread tacking stitches were also used in some areas to secure the centers of long rows.

Figure 5: Location of seams between separate hide elements.

Ledoux, ANAGPIC 2010, 7

3.2 Hide Characterization The type of hide used, and its tanning and preparation, have proven difficult to determine.

Examination of a skin’s follicle pattern can be helpful for identifying the source animal (Haines 1981). However, the follicle patterns on this hide cannot be easily matched to a particular animal species, and do not have a consistent appearance across different portions of the hide (Figure 6).

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Figure 6: Follicle patterns from fringes (top and bottom left) and center circle (right).

These differences may reflect variations in follicle pattern within a single species, or it could be that some hide components derive from different animal species. Another possibility is that it could result from variability in hide processing techniques.

Potential tanning and processing methods were investigated, as this information can also shed light on the object’s origins, fabrication, and susceptibility to certain types of damage. At the turn of the 20th century, when this object was likely made, a variety of tanning methods were possible (Covington 2005). Brain tanning and smoking are traditional methods that Plains natives have used to preserve hides and modify their properties (Cobb, Hodson, and Tamayo 2008). In brain tanning, animal brain is applied to the hide as a paste, resulting in a soft, lightcolored hide with an open collagen fiber structure. This process was often followed by smoking, Ledoux, ANAGPIC 2010, 8 which introduces color and additional tannins that improve the hide’s moisture resistance.

Vegetable tanning is a method that uses plant material containing polyphenols to stabilize leather, and was already being practiced on an industrial scale beginning in the 19th century (Thomson 2005a; Ellsworth 1969). Mineral tanning treatments have also been used in large-scale commercial leather production. One example of this is chrome tanning, which produces highly durable, bluish-colored leather. Based on visual inspection alone, it is unclear whether this piece was tanned through traditional native methods or whether it was tanned through an industrial process. However, the crisp, straight edges of its fringes, as compared to the fringes found on other Plains items, have led some consultants to suggest that the hide was commercially produced.

Chemical tests were used to characterize tannins from samples of both the altered and unaltered portions of the hide (Thomson 2005b). The negative vanillin test 1 results suggest that condensed vegetable tannins were not used on this hide, but the inconclusive ferric sulfate test 2 cannot rule out the use of hydrolysable vegetable tannins (see Table 2). Shrinkage temperature measurements 3, which indicate the hydrothermal stability of the collagen fibers, were also used to assess the deterioration of the hide samples (Larsen, Vest, and Nielsen 1993). The results were lower temperatures than would be expected for raw and semi-tanned hides, demonstrating that even the unaltered hide has lost any resistance to heat and moisture it may have once been imparted with. This result may explain its high susceptibility to liquid damage, but has limited usefulness for tannin characterization. Interestingly, the undamaged hide fibers shrank at a lower temperature, and more dramatically, than the altered hide fibers (Figure 7). This may be because the collagen fibers in the altered hide sample had already shrunk in response to the liquid damage (Pouliot 2010).

1 Vanillin test was performed by placing a corium fiber sample on a glass slide and adding one drop of 1% vanillin in ethanol (w/v) to the sample, soaking up any excess solution. A cover slip was placed over the sample and one drop of concentrated HCl was added to its edge until the sample was enveloped. The development of a bright red stain indicates the presence of condensed vegetable tannins.

2 Ferric sulfate test was performed by placing a corium fiber sample on a glass slide and covering with a cover slip.

One drop of 1% ferric sulfate in distilled water (w/v) was added to the edge of the cover slip until the sample was enveloped. The development of a blue-black stain indicates the presence of vegetable tannins.

3 Shrinkage temperature was measured using a heated microscope stage. Placed corium fiber sample on a well slide, added 1-2 drops of distilled water, and covered with a cover slip. Placed temperature probe at edge of cover slip.

Raised stage temperature by 2° C per minute and observed fiber microscopically. Added water to edge of cover slip periodically to prevent sample from drying out. The temperatures at which the fiber begins to contract and finishes contracting were recorded.

Ledoux, ANAGPIC 2010, 9

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Figure 7: Corium fibers before and after shrinkage, unaltered (left) and altered (right).

3.3 Bead Characterization Efforts to characterize the beads used in this piece have been more conclusive. Two types of metal beads and eight different colors of glass beads were used. The glass beads are very small, irregular in shape, and some are translucent—all characteristics consistent with Europeanmanufactured trade beads from the 1870s onward (Lyford 1940; Conn 1986). X-ray fluorescence (XRF) 4 was used to investigate bead composition. Table 3 lists the major elements present in each bead type examined. Through there are minor differences, all the glass beads were highly leaded. The only bead type for which a colorant could be identified was the opaque blue bead, which had a strong copper peak. The two types of metal beads were identified as brass and iron.

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3.4 Hide Alteration The primary cause of this object’s instability is the large area of severe hide alteration that has resulted in fragmentation and loss of significant hide portions. It appears that this has resulted from contact with an unknown liquid, based on the tide lines that sharply divide the deteriorated and undeteriorated hide portions. The alteration of the hide is most apparent and severe on the back side of the hide, where the hide surface is dramatically darker and more compacted in the area of liquid damage. This alteration has also caused embrittlement, breakage, and loss of sinew threads and fringes, as well as localized bead corrosion.

The appearance of the altered hide takes more than one form. There are relatively light brown areas that show signs of cracking but remain largely intact (Figure 8a), while other areas are fragmenting and delaminating (Figure 8b). Adjacent to the large losses in the center of the hide, there are highly brittle, shiny areas that may have been produced by contact with a smooth surface when wet (Figure 8c). Other portions of the hide take on a slightly shiny, but more reddish appearance (Figure 8d).

Ledoux, ANAGPIC 2010, 11

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Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) 5 and XRF were used to investigate chemical differences between the altered and unaltered hide in order to gather clues about the nature and possible sources of the alteration. No clear differences emerged using FTIR, but XRF produced more informative data. As shown in Figure 9, acquired using the vacuum attachment and no filter to enhance the signal of low-Z elements, the altered and unaltered hide differ in potassium and calcium content, with the altered hide showing stronger peaks for these elements.

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