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Galt preparing for exhibit of Blackfoot shirts

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It is not often people are allowed to touch  140 year old artifacts, but The Galt Museum is hosting approximately workshops over the next couple weeks allowing members of the Blackfoot tribe, elders, schools, artists  and students  that rare opportunity.Laura Peers and Heather Richardson speak of the shirts. Photo by Richard Amery
Five  traditional  Blackfoot  shirts, collected in 1841 by Hudson’s Bay Company head  George Simpson and his assistant Edward Hopkins, are coming home for  a visit  thanks to six years of  hard work and organization, the Galt museum, Glenbow Museum and the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford, England, plus  consultation with  Blackfoot elders.
 The deer skin shirts include formal wear decorated with  intricate quill work, horse and human hair and drawings as well as a rougher work shirt,  have been on display at the Glenbow museum since March.
 The exhibit opens to the public June 5 at the Galt Museum, however Galt Museum staff and local media got a special sneak preview of the shirts, May 19.


“We’ve been working closely  with the elders  for six of seven years on this project alone,”  said Alison Brown from the University of Aberdeen, who has been working with the elders as well as Dr. Laura Peers of the University of Oxford and Heather Richardson to bring the shirts back for a visit.

Heather Richardson said they, as well as Oxford staff having direct contact with the shirts, brought a Blackfoot elder over to Britain to learn more and lead them through the ceremonial aspects  of the project.

“We worked with Blackfoot ceremonialists to guide us through proper conservation and treatment. So we Wendy Aitkens, Alison Brown, Laura Peers and Heather Richardson look at  one of the shirts. Photo by Richard Amerywere painted and blessed as well as a  few other members of the staff who had direct contact with them,” Richardson said.

 


They also built a special transport crate to get the shirts over here safely. The ladies will be on hand during the  workshops, which will be a maximum of 20 people twice a day, to ensure the shirts are handled with the proper gentleness and treated with respect and consideration.


“Even most Blackfoot people haven’t even seen shirts of this style before,” Peers said adding the shirts are pre-contact so there is no bead work or other ‘white’ influence on them.
“This exhibit is about finding ways to reconnect the Blackfoot people with these shirts,” Peers continued, adding  the workshops will be a learning experience for  them as well as the Blackfoot participants interested in  traditional  design and decorative techniques.
A couple of the shirts made a visit to Alberta in 1988 for Spirit Days.


Galt Museum curator Wendy Aitkens is pleased to have this exhibit in Lethbridge.
“We’re looking forward to  meeting the people and being able to expand our relationship with the Blackfoot people through this exhibit,” Aitkens said.


“The biggest challenge has  been the logistics of working with three museums, the Glenbow, Galt and  Pitt Rivers,” she said adding workshops run from May 20-June 3. The Exhibit runs June 5-Aug. 29.
More information about the  shirts is online at http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/blackfootshirts/

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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