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PARFLECHE ENVELOPE

Kutenai
Western Plateau

ca. 1880

hide, paint
length: 13 ½"
width: 8 ¼" 

Inventory # CP4311-88

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PROVENANCE

Ex. Mike Maxwell Collection, Santa Fe, NM
Morningstar Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
Donald Ellis Gallery, Dundas, ON
Private Collection, Toronto, ON (1994)

PUBLISHED

Miles, Charles. Indian and Eskimo Artifacts of North America. New York: Bonanza Books, pg. 126, pl. 478 and pg. 66, pl. 217

RELATED EXAMPLES

American Museum of Natural History, Cat. No. 50/1364 - See: Torrence, Gaylord. The American Indian Parfleche: A Tradition of Abstract Painting. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994, pg. 193, pl. 86, for a full-size example collected by Alfred L. Kroeber ca. 1900

Field Museum of Natural History, Cat. No. 51849 - See: Ibid, pg. 191, pl. 84, for a pair of envelopes

Donald Ellis Gallery, 2017, for a Kutenai fringed flatcase

The word ‘parfleche’ has its origins in the French fur trade of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Literally translated as ‘to turn away arrows,’ the term likely refers to the toughness of rawhide and its concurrent use in the manufacture of war shields. The majority of parfleche were made on the Plains between 1750 and 1880. Although the abstracted design elements have their roots in older forms of artistic expression, parfleche were a relatively new invention corresponding to the introduction of horses to the Plains. The transformation from semi-horticultural to a nomadic way of life necessitated containers to carry possessions including dried foods, tools and ceremonial regalia.

This parfleche envelope, made of stiff rawhide folded in classic double-flap fashion, is painted with designs typical of the Kutenai who inhabited the Western Plateau region of the United States and Canada. Geometric compositions such as this mirror-image pattern of diamonds and split triangle complements in blue, red, and ochre, as well as the manufacture of parfleche envelopes themselves, were an artistic privilege of Plains women. Before forming the containers themselves, hides had to be cut and stretched before rich and colorful painting could be applied. The bold designs reveal affinities with earlier painting on hide that originated in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions before the westward migration of several of these nations to the Plains.

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