Alaska Native Traditional Dress BibliographyAlaska Native Traditional Dress Bibliography

By Marciella Brown, September Laakso, Anne McBeth, and Tara Maginnis

Edited by Tara Maginnis

Originally published in the Northwest Theatre Review 1993as "Alaska Native Costume Bibliography"

Editor's Note:

In the fall of 1988, someone who had recently been on vacation in Alaskaobserved in the Costume Society of America, Region V Newsletter, that there were no AlaskaNative Traditional Dress books easily available to tourists and inquired if anyone knew of anypublications on this subject. Since I had moved to Fairbanks from California only a fewweeks before and knew nothing about Alaskan Native dress when I arrived, I found myselfwondering the same thing and resolved to answer this question while I was teaching at theUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks.

I enlisted the aid of several students studying costume history with mein assembling bibliographies of the dress of the major language groups of Alaska. Bookcitations with an asterisk (*) next to them are available in stores. I then conducted aconsiderable amount of research of my own in finding study sources in addition to books,that were available to tourists on a limited time-frame and budget.

This paper is not, by any means, an attempt to list all the availablestudy sources for Alaska Native Traditional Dress in the State, but rather is intended as aneducational guide for the thousands of people who travel to Alaska each year. It would beadvisable for a person with costume interests, before going to the State, to familiarizehim/herself with the literature on the subject of Native dress, and to plan one's triparound stops at some of the appropriate museums, stores, festivals, and theatre events.The single best all-around book for preliminary study of Alaskan Traditional Dressis the new Crossroadsof Continents, and the best book for practical sewing techniques is Secrets ofEskimo Skin Sewing, both of which are available in low-cost paperbacks.

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General Books Covering More than One Alaskan Language Group: Annotated Bibliography byTara Maginnis

  • Alaska Geographic, Vol. 6, No. 3: Alaska's Native People.Anchorage, 1979. Layman's book providing a brief overview of Alaska Native groups. Chieflyvaluable for its color photos of contemporary Alaskans.
  • Blumenstein, Rita Pitka. Earth Dyes. Fairbanks: Institute ofAlaska Native Arts, 1984. Technical manual on dyeing using native Alaskan plants.

Collins, Henry, Frederica De Laquna, Edmund Carpenter, and Peter Stone. TheFar North: 2000 Years of American Eskimo and Indian Art. Washington: National Galleryof Art, 1973. Exceptional book with many clear black and white photos of little-seenexamples of Alaskan art.

  • Fair, Susan W. Alaska Geographic, Vol. 12, No. 3: Alaska Native Artsand Crafts. Anchorage, 1985. A layman's book introducing the beginner to the historyand present practice of traditional Alaskan arts and crafts like mask making, ivorycarving, etc. Provides lots of color pictures of museum examples, and museum-qualitymodern work.
  • Fitzhugh, William W., and Aron Cromwell. . Washington: Smithsonian, 1988: Companion book (notexhibit catalog) to the recent Crossroads of Continents Traditional Dress exhibit. Contains colorpictures of all the garments in the exhibit, detailed description of the culture of theSiberian and Alaskan regions, and an entire chapter on the spiritual/religious basis ofmany Native traditions of clothing construction.

Steinbright, Jan. Ed. Alaskameut '86: An Exhibit of ContemporaryAlaska Native Masks. Fairbanks: Institute of Alaska Native Arts, 1986. Slender,magazine style exhibit catalog. Shows several truly interesting modern interpretations oftraditional mask forms.

  • Wilder, Edna. Secrets of Eskimo Skin Sewing. Anchorage: AlaskaNorthwest, 1976. Clear, simple instructions for stretching, cutting and sewing furs into avariety of useful garments. Contains patterns, black and white sewing diagrams, and colorphotos of completed objects. This book is used at the University of Alaska as the textbookfor its skin sewing class.

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The Tlingits:

The Tlingit (pronounced Kling-kit) Indians are Northwest Coast Indians,related to the Haida people of Canada. The Tlingit live in the rainy, unfrozen Southeasternpart of Alaska, where the land is extremely abundant in natural resources like fish,beaver, seal, and trees. Compared to other Native Alaskan groups before contact, theTlingit were very "rich", living far above basic subsistence level, and theyconsequently developed a very complex material culture.

Tlingit art and clothing was primarily indicative of their elaboratesocial hierarchy and clan groups. Tlingit clothing includes the Chilcat Blanket a fringedrobe that was woven into complex heraldic patterns and worn by high nobles and chiefs, theButton Blanket an appliquéd robe made of black and red Hudson Bay Company blankets anddecorated with hundreds of mother of pearl buttons, Tunics made in the styles of the abovetwo robes, and Potlatch Hats usually carved of wood in the animal design of the wearer'sclan.

Tlingit clothing is now used only for ceremonial occasions, much the waytailcoats are used in Western culture, and consequently, like tailcoats, has remainedlargely fixed in style since the 19th Century. Tlingit design forms, however, areplastered all over T-shirts, and jewelry worn throughout the state.

---Tara Maginnis

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Tlingit Indian Clothing: Bibliography byMarciella Brown

Billman, Esther Lisle. Tlingit Clothing and Ornament. Sitka:Sheldon Jackson Museum, 1975.

Black, Lydia. The Bentwood Hats of Alaska: Symbols of Power andIdentity. Juneau: Alaska State Museum, 1988.

Carlson, Roy L. Indian Art Traditions of the Northwest Coast.Burnaby: Archeology Press, 1982.

Emmons, George T. "The Chilcat Blanket." Memoirs of theAmerican Museum of Natural History 3.4 (1907): 229-277.

Gunther, Erna. Art in the Life of the Northwest Coast Indians.Portland: Portland Art Museum, 1966.

  • Hall, Betty. Totemic Design Forms. Juneau: Betty's RainbowPress, 1984. Editor's note: Black and white spiral bound how-to book for making designswith traditional forms.

Hall, Edwin S. Jr. Northwest Coast Indians Graphics. Seattle:University of Washington Press, 1981.

Hanson, Charles E. "The Point Blanket." Museum of the FurTrade Quarterly 12.1 (1976): 5-10.

  • Jensen, Doreen and Polly Sargent. Robes of Power. Vancouver:University of British Columbia Press, 1986. Editor's note: brief history of buttonblankets, with numerous color examples of modern blankets from British Columbia.

Matthews, Downs. "Reproducing Alaska's Aboriginal Art." TheHumble Way First Quarter (1972): 2-7.

Razumovskaia, R.S. "Plentenye Izdeliia Severo - ZapdnykhIkdeitzeu." [Woven Objects of the Northwest Coast Indians]. Sbornik MuzeiaAntropoloqii I Etnografii 24: 93-123.

  • Samuel, Cheryl. The Chilcat Dancing Blanket. Seattle: PacificSearch Press, 1982. Editor's note: Incredibly detailed, scholarly work on the history andconstruction of Chilcat blankets with many pictures. Contains sufficient weaving diagramsto reproduce one should you have the necessary skill and two years time to do it.

Stewart, Hilary. Indian Artifacts of the Northwest Coast.Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975.

Wherry, Joseph W. The Totem Pole Indians. New York: Wifred Funk,1964.

Woodcock, George. People of the Coast. Bloomington: IndianaUniversity Press, 1977.


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The Athabaskans:

Athabaskan Indians (sometimes spelled Athapaskan) were part of asemi-nomadic language group, living predominantly in forested central Alaska and theYukon, but with branches as far south as Arizona. Athabaskan culture endured a violentupheaval with the introduction of Western traders in the 19th Century, changing from asubsistence culture to a fur trapping culture, directly connected to the rise and fall offur sales in the Western world.

Their clothing in the immediate post-contact period reflected thischange by the adoption of Western Garment features: Italian and Czech trade beads replacedporcupine quillwork, men discarded their traditional leather pullover tunics for leatherChief's Jackets cut on the lines of British military officers tunics, women changed fromwearing leather tunic and trouser sets to wearing calf length leather dresses, andAthabaskans of both sexes adopted the post-contact version of the Eskimo parka, which alsohad adopted Western features like front closings and pockets.

The most famous Athabaskan textile art is Athabaskan Beadwork which usesseed beads couched to moose hide in geometric and floral patterns. This is the primarycontemporary surviving piece of Athabaskan traditional dress: worn as jewelry, glovedecoration, and embellishment on moccasins by both Athabaskans and Anglos. Chief's jacketsare also worn at events like the Tanana Chief's Conference and the Native Arts Festival,and traditional tunics and dresses are still worn by Native dance groups.

---Tara Maginnis


Athabaskan Indian (Central Alaska + Yukon)Clothing and Beadwork: Bibliography by Anne McBeth

Cadzon, Donald A. "Old Loucheux Clothing." Indian Notes 2(1925): 292-95.

Dene Nation. Denedeh - A Dene Celebration. Northwest Territories:Yellowknife Denedeh, 1984.

Duncan, Kate Corbin. Bead Embroidery of the Northern Athabaskans:Style, Design, Evolution, and Transfer. Dissertation, University of Washington, 1982.

  • Duncan, Kate. Northern Athapaskan Art: A Beadwork Tradition. Seattle:University of Washington Press, 1988. Editor's note: Readable yet scholarly hardcover bookon the history and technique of Athabaskan beadwork. Contains many color and black andwhite pictures of historical examples of beadwork.
  • Duncan, Kate. Some Warmer Tone: Alaska Athabaskan Bead Embroidery.Fairbanks: University of Alaska, 1984. Editor's note: Smaller paperbound book similar toabove, with sewing diagrams and examples of historical and contemporary beadworkreproduced in color.

Duncan, Kate C. "The Metis and Production of Embroidery in theSubarctic." The Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly 17.3 (1981): 1-8.

Duncan, Kate C. "Yukon River Athabaskan Costume in the 1860's:Contributions of the Ethnographic Illustrations of William Dall." Faces, Voicesand Dreams. Sitka: Sheldon Jackson Museum, 1987.

  • Duncan, Kate Corbin, with Eunice Carney. A Special Gift - TheKutchin Beadwork Tradition. Seattle: University of Washington, 1988. Editor's note:Similar to Northern Athapaskan Art .

Fairbanks Native Association. Athabaskan Beading. Fairbanks:1978.

Hatt, Gumund. Moccasins and Their Relations to Arctic Footwear.New York: American Anthropological Association, vol. 3, 1916.

  • Institute of Alaska Native Arts. From Skins, Trees, Quills, andBeads: The Work of Nine Athabaskans. Fairbanks: Institute of Alaska Native Arts, 1985.Editor's note: Biographical sketches of modern Native craftspeople, including abeadworker. Illustrated.

Jenkins, Michael R. "Glass Trade Beads in Alaska." AlaskaJournal 2.3 (1972): 31-19.

Leechman, Douglas. Vanta Kutchin. Ottawa: National Museum ofCanada, 1951.

McKennan, Robert A. The Upper Tanana Indians. New Haven: YaleUniversity, 1959.

Murray, Alexander Hunter. Journal of the Yukon. Ottawa:Government Printing Bureau, 1910.

National Museum of Man. The Athabaskans: Strangers of the North.Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1974.

  • Nelson, Richard K. The Athabaskans: People of the Boreal Forest.Fairbanks: University of Alaska Museum, 1983. Editor's note: Readable history of the life,crafts and traditions of the Athabaskan people in Alaska, shown with numerous historicalphotos and artifacts.

Orchard, William C. Beads and Beadwork of the American Indian.New York: Museum of the American Indian, 1929.

  • Orchard, William C. The Technique of Porcupine Quill DecorationAmong the North American Indians. New York: Museum of the American Indian, 1916.Editor's note: Reprint of the classic scholarly study of quillwork, complete withexcruciatingly detailed drawings and instructions on quillwork technique.

Osgood Cornelius. Yale University Publications in Anthropology #22:Inqalik Material Culture. New Haven: Yale University, 1971.

Osgood, Cornelius. Yale University Publications in Anthropology #74The Han Indians. New Haven: Yale University, 1971.

Schmitter, Ferdinand. "Upper Yukon Native Customs andFolklore." Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 56.4 (1910): 1-30.

Shternberg, Lev Ia. "Ornament iz Olen'ego Volosa I IglDikobraza." (Reindeer Hair and Porcupine Quill Ornamentation). SovetskaiaEtnografiia 3-4 (1931): 103-121.

Simeone, William, Jr. "The Alaska Athapaskan Chief's Coat." AmericanIndian Art Magazine 8.2 (1983): 64-69.

Thompson, Judy. "Preliminary Study of Traditional Kutchin Clothingin Museums." Mercury Series, National Museum of Canada 1 (1972).

Toghotthele Corporation. Nenana Denayee. Nenana: ToghottheleCorp., 1983.

Turner, Geoffrey. "Hair Embroidery in Siberia and NorthAmerica." Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, Occasional Papers onTechnology 7 (1976).

Van Stone, James W. Athapaskan Clothing and Related Objects in theCollections of the Field Museum of Natural History. Field Museum of Natural History#4, 1981.

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The Yupik, Inupiat and Aleut:

The Alaskan Eskimo people live predominantly along the extremely coldcostal areas of the main body of Alaska, and are part of a large ethnic group thatstretches across Greenland, Northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia. Alaskan and SiberianEskimos speak various dialects of the Yupik or Inupiat languages, and so are called Yupik(Southwest and central coastal) or Inupiat (Northern coastal) to distinguish them from theInuit speakers of Canada and Greenland. Aleuts are the inhabitants of the Aleutian chainof islands in Southwestern Alaska who live in a warmer, wet climate with no trees and noland animals.

In pre-contact times, Aleuts believed that sea-mammals (particularlyotters who were thought to be transformed humans) were attracted to human finery. Sohunters wore elegant and elaborate clothing with talismans and decorations while out intheir boats. Aleut parkas were often made of the skins of seabirds like puffins andcormorants, and light waterproof parkas were made of sewn strips of gut skin (walrus orseal intestine).

Yupik in pre-contact times also made waterproof parkas of gut skin(onthe coast) and fish skin (inland), as well as some bird skin parkas. However, it is with furthat Yupik seamstresses even now seem to do their most interesting work. In pre-contacttimes animal skin garments were thought to impart to the wearers the characteristics ofthe original animals, and garments were often constructed using skin parts comparable tohuman parts of the body: legs for arms and legs, backs for backs, etc. and many parkas hadu-shaped "tail" flaps. Contrasting colors of skins were used in a kind ofpatchwork style to make decorative effects along joint marks which were thought to be thelocation of souls.

This tradition has continued on modern parkas but is now often done withblack and white pieces of clipped cowhide imported to the North for the purpose. Yupikclothing has also adopted a number of Western features during the 20th Century: Parkashave changed from a pullover design to one with a front zippered closing, Women's parkashave dropped the front and back u-shaped flap in favor of a short ruffled skirt attachedto the bottom, fur lined parkas now are covered with a cloth shell (usually a brightflowered print or cotton velvet), and a cloth version of the old pullover parka (with atwo handed pocket), the Kuspuk (also spelled Quaspeq), has become the accepted dress fortraditional dancing.

The cloth parka is the most commonly worn piece of traditional Alaskandress, worn not only by many Yupik, but by other Alaska Natives and Anglos as both apractical method for staying warm, and an expression of local pride in it's uniqueamalgamation of Native and Western design.

---Tara Maginnis

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Inuit (Eskimo) and Aleut Clothing: Bibliographyby September Laakso

Black, Lydia T. Aleut Art. Anchorage: Aleutian/Pribiloff IslandAssociation, 1982.

Burch, Ernest S. Jr. and Werner Forman. The Eskimos. Tulsa:University of Oklahoma, 1988.

Collins, Henry B. "Composite Masks: Chinese and Eskimo." Anthropologica13.1-2 (1971): 271-278.

Fienup-Riordan, Ann. "The Mask: The Eye of the Dance." ArcticAnthropology 24.12 (1987): 40-55.

  • Fitzhugh, William W. and Susan A. Kaplan. Inua: Spirit World of theBering Sea Eskimos. Washington: Smithsonian, 1982. Editor's note: Detailed andfascinating book on the spiritual basis for Yupik culture and design, illustrated in blackand white with many historic photos and museum artifacts.

Harrington, Richard. The Inuit: Life As It Was. Edmonton: Hurtig,1981.

Hatt, Gudmund. "Arctic Skin Clothing in Eurasia and America: AnEthnographic Study". Arctic Anthropology 5.2 (1969): 1-132. [Translated fromJ.H. Schultz, Forlgasboghandel Graebes Bogtrykkeri, 1914.]

  • Hickman, Pat. Inner Skins and Outer Skins: Gut and Fishskin. SanFrancisco: San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum, 1987.

Issenman, Betty and Catherine Rankin. Ivalu: Traditions of InuitClothing. Montreal: McCord Museum of Canadian History, 1988.

Jones, Suzi. Eskimo Dolls. Juneau?: Alaska State Council on theArts, 1982.

Joppien, Rudiger and Bernard Smith. The Art of Captain Cook'sVoyages, Vol. III. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.

Kaeppler, Adrienne Lois. "Artificial Curiosities": Being anExposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain JamesCook. Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1978.

Larsen, Dinah W. Eskimo Dolls in the Collection of the University ofAlaska Museum. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Museum, 1973.

Myers, Mary Belle. Things Made by Inuit. Quebec: Federation DesCooperatives du Nouvean-Quebec, 1980.

Ray, Dorothy. Aleut and Eskimo Art: Tradition and Innovation in SouthAlaska. London: C. Hurst, 1981.

Ray, Dorothy Jean and Alfred A. Blaker. Eskimo Masks: Art andCeremony. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1967.

Ritchie, Carson, I.A. Art of Eskimo. South Brunswick: Barnes,1979.

Van Stone, J.W. "Protective Hide Body Armor of the Historic Chukchiand Siberian Eskimos." Etudes/Inuit/Studies 7 (1983): 3-24.

Winnipeg Art Gallery. The Inuit Amautik: I Like My Hood to be Full.Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1980.


Polar Regions Traditional Dress Books

Native American Traditional Dress Books

Alaskan Traditional Dress


Polar Regions Traditional Dress


Tuma Theatre

Photos (many pages of photos)

Athabaskan Traditional Dress and Beadwork in the UAFMuseum

Eskimo Traditional Dress, Jewelry and Dolls in theUAFMuseum

Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, Haines:

TraditionalDressand Beadwork Photos

Three images from the

Native Arts Festival at UAFin 1989.

Traditional Dress and Beadwork at the

Sheldon JacksonMuseum, Sitka.

Product Links

Deerskins Into Buckskins: How To Tan With Brains Soap Or Eggs Deerskins Into Buckskins: How To Tan With Brains Soap Or Eggs

Secrets of Eskimo Skin Sewing Secrets of Eskimo Skin Sewing

The Button Blanket : An Activity Book Ages 6-10 (Northwest Coast Indian Discovery Kits) The Button Blanket : An Activity Book Ages 6-10 (Northwest Coast Indian Discovery Kits)

Deerskins into Buckskins : How to Tan With Natural Materials A Field Guide for Hunters and Gatherers Deerskins into Buckskins : How to Tan With Natural Materials A Field Guide for Hunters and Gatherers

American Indian Beadwork American Indian Beadwork

How to Sew Leather, Suede, Fur How to Sew Leather, Suede, Fur

Buckskin & Buffalo : The Artistry of the Plains Indians Buckskin & Buffalo : The Artistry of the Plains Indians

The Complete How-To Book of Indian Craft The Complete How-To Book of Indian Craft

Crossroads of Continents; Cultures of Siberia and Alaska

Inuit Punch-Out Masks

Sinews of Survival : The Living Legacy of Inuit Clothing Sinews of Survival : The Living Legacy of Inuit Clothing

Spirit of Siberia : Traditional Native Life, Clothing, and Footwear Spirit of Siberia : Traditional Native Life, Clothing, and Footwear

The Cultural Politics of Fur The Cultural Politics of Fur

"The Costumer's Manifesto"
by Tara Maginnis