Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Freebie! Max Tilke

Just like with Braun and Schneider, I have another free link to an extant book of costumes for you all. Furthermore, it comes from another German (danke schoen, boys!)- ethnographer and artist Max Tilke (1869-1942). If you're interested in Middle Eastern or Asian traditional dress, this will surely become one of your favorites.

A Caspian Woman's kaftan
While the book was published in 1922 (a little past our period), Tilke himself was a man of our era and the hard work he did constructing this wonderful resource is irrefutible. Tilke spent years studying, documenting, and painting actual garments from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Eastern Asia, and the Middle East and put so much care put into these plates that you can easily understand how these garments were constructed. Close ups of hardware such as brooches or even samples of the textiles are also included for better overall effect. One of the other large merits of this book are the vibrant colors Tilke used- see steampunks, you can use more than brown and black!

An atooshi- an Aino-Japanese garment woven from bark.
Whether you're looking for inspiration, help with construction, or even just vocabulary (Tilk lists this as well in his plate descriptions) this book is for you!

Here's the link:
Oriental Costumes and Their Design, courtesy of the University of Indiana

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Featured Traveler: Tawnya Hick-Letts

Tawny's Native American fusion dress- with hand-beading and braiding, and garments inspired by a plethora of tribes.

Like so many costumers, I started my craft at the Renaissance Festival. Like all costumers, I look at my beginning work with (and I quote my artist friend Cami Woodruff) "nostalgia, but mostly horror". With practice, exposure to new techniques, and instruction I was set right on my way to becoming a better costumer/artist/craftswoman- the person who gave me all three of these is my long-time mentor, friend, and jedi-master, Tawnya "Tawny" Hicks-Letts.

Over the years Tawny has taught me finishing techniques, loaned me books, fed me, gave me materials, and looked at my sketchpads and gave me encouraging grins and a fanfare of, "That's awesome!" No matter where I am right now in learning my craft, if I can ever become half as good as Tawny, I'll be a happy crow-lady. So, without further ado, here is some of the work of my mentor- most notably her take on Native American-European fusion. This regal dress was made for a Renaissance Festival, but it is inspiring nonetheless for anyone wanting to combine cultures into one spectacular outfit.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

December Preview and Some Housekeeping Notes

Once upon a December, perhaps?

You can expect a few more posts out of November, but since the month is dwindling down it's about time that I showed you what we have planned for December. Bear in mind that because of my car accident recovery, some of Native American heritage month will be spilling over- however some of the articles will be tucked away until next year.

Babbling Books
-The Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume by Josephine Paterek

Clothing You'll Love Spotlights
-Northwest Coast Native Americans
-Imperial Russia

Focus on Folkways
-Noserings: And the Cultures Who Love Them
-December Holidays Around the World

- How to make a pair of sirwal (turkish trousers)
- How to make simple tassels

-Special Guest cook: Alli Borson with how to make latkes.
-Caakiri (a West African pudding)

Featured Travelers

Also, the blog is just about two months old and at 28,000 hits! I could not have done it without you, your readership, and your gracious word-of-mouth. In the future, is there anything you'd like to see on the blog? Do you have any questions for me? Next week I'll be doing Questions for Kagashi, so feel free to offer up your questions, concerns, suggestions, or requests below.

KK: Hopi Boiled Corn Cakes

In my previous installment of Kagashi's Kitchen I discussed the importance of the Three Sisters to Native American cuisine. Once again we will revisit this trinity and make an authentic Hopi dish- corn cakes. Corn (maize) was sacred to the tribes of the Southwest and used for everything from cooking to religious cleansings (slain deer would have corn meal dusted upon their noses as thanks). Furthermore the tribes of the Southwest used corn to its full extent- bread, pancakes, porridge, they even cooked up the black fungus which plagued some of their crop as a delicacy. No where near as daunting to eat, these treats are somewhere between a dumpling and cornbread, quite sweet, and ridiculously easy to make

Famous photograph of four Hopi women grinding corn by Edward Curtis (1907)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Focus on Folkways: Walk a Mile...

The footwear of Native Americans is called by many names: alasulo, mo'keha, sta tiku'ukye- but it's a variation of an Algonquin word that has become the iconic catch-all term: makasin- or moccasin.

Seminole moccasins, courtesy of the Penn Museum

Of course, in the modern mindset moccasins have become another piece of fashion altogether- more of a house slipper or loafer or a bohemian alternative similar to what ballet flats were a few years ago. But these shoes are more than just hipsterwear made of bad-fringed suede- they're works of art. Follow me as I take you on a tour of moccasins from a variety of tribes, because you never quite understand someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. Or at the very least admire the workmanship of them.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

CYL: When Old meets New- the Northeast Woodlands

(Note: Again, I apologize for the lateness in posts recently. This article was supposed to be up on Wednesday, but Tuesday evening found me in a car accident. I managed to walk away from my totaled car with bruised and cracked ribs. It has taken me a few days to heal and get my focus back again, so due to the delay the Native American Heritage articles will be extending into December. My apologies for the delays.)

A Micmac couple- note the hood that the woman is wearing.

Sgayno! Today we'll be looking at the peoples who inhabited the temperate woodlands of the Northeast- from the coastal waters of New England, around the Great Lakes to the border of the Mississippi.

If there were time in the month, I would split the Northeast (which covers a vast multitude of peoples) into Coastal and Great Lakes regions. However, common garment types were shared amongst many of these tribes, so I feel confident grouping them into one Clothing You'll Love article.

Monday, November 15, 2010

KK: Ojibwe Baked Pumpkin

"The Three Sisters" were a concept of food and agricultural that was a cornerstone of life for tribes of the Northeast Woodlands. Like a family, these simple plants worked together for a sum that was far greater than their individual parts. The corn would be planted first and once it had grown a few inches, the beans were planted and allowed to use the stalk as a pole upon which to grow. The sturdy squash grows at the base and takes up the space that would otherwise be occupied by weeds, thus keeping the other crops healthy. Not only did all of the plants provide for one another, but three times as much produce could be grown in one area (with a greater degree of fertility, thanks to the different acids and compositions of each plant).

A young Three Sisters garden
Even more amazing- when eaten together in a steady diet these plants combine into a supernutrition of proteins and carbohydrates. So in celebration of this Native American uberfood (and its abundance in the supermarket), I'll be showing you a traditional Ojibwe recipe for baked pumpkin, courtesy of Lady Pixel. The Ojibwe were semi-sedentary and followed the seasons around the northern Great Lakes to farm or gather the various commodities they needed while leaving behind small gardens in their winter camps. In late winter, they would gather maple syrup from specifically chosen stands of trees and boil the sweet sap down into a delicacy.

Friday, November 12, 2010

CYL: Style of the Southeast Tribes

O si yo, friends! This is the first of five Clothing You'll Love articles for Native American Heritage Month. Since 'Native American Culture' is not a homogeneous term (in the least!), I decided that it would not only be awfully silly, but also a discredit to the varied customs and art of the different tribes if I tried to work it all into one massive post. Instead, I'll be dividing the articles according to basic anthropological and geographic areas: the Southeast, the Northeastern-Woodlands, the Plains, the Southwest, and the Northwest Coast.

Today we'll be looking at the styles of dress of the Southeastern tribes during the Age of Steam: from the hills of Appalachia to the sandy beaches of the Atlantic, to the swamps of the Mississippi Delta.

Cherokee girl- undated

A Reflection from the Crow-Lady

Pictures of adorable children diffuse every situation- in this case a Plains child.

I received a lot of feedback on my post about Native American steampunk- both good and bad. What troubled me however, were many of the harsh comments degrading me and my stance on the topic with terms that made me appear to be racist, insensitive, or downright stupid.

What I did instead of retracting my statements, trying to appease, or even erasing my post was quite simple: I reflected.

I thought about what it means to be a person of Native descent and aware of my own culture and past. After all, it was Lakota flute player John Two-Hawks who once told me as an awkward teenager," You are a leaf on the top of a tall, proud tree. You may be far removed from the roots, but you know where you come from, which makes you just as much a part of the tree." I thought about the stories my grams told me about her family when they lived on the reservation in Kansas- all the suffering, the people who cannot be brought back to life. I thought about what it means to me to be Kagashikwe, the crow woman.

What I'm trying to do in these blog posts is not to wipe clean the slate of the past- even that is impossible. I'm Potawatomie. I could tell you all about the horrendous things done to my people during the Age of Steam- how we were pushed from our tribal lands, forced to walk at the points of guns to an unknown and barren territory and expected to survive off of nothing. How the children had their culture beaten out of them. How that culture is now endangered.

But does that make anyone feel any better? It is important to know about the injustices of the past, but if we dwell on them then all that grows is bitterness. Everyone of Native descent doesn't share my view on this, but it needs to be said. It's a controversial topic, an unpleasant one, but talking about it is the only way to ease some of the misunderstanding away.

However, I'm also not giving carte-blanche to people. I'm not telling people to run out and make Native American steamsonas or bedeck themselves in warbonnets, wear feathers in their hair or run out declaring themselves "Awesomefox" or "Jim Stands With a Possum" (that would be a double-whammy of silly AND offensive). If one were to read my article (which seems to be a problem with the internet, I've noticed) one would see that the key element to my belief on Native American steampunk AND multicultural steampunk in general is to DO YOUR RESEARCH and GET IT RIGHT. Do an honor to these people by being inspired instead of slapping them in the face by (horrendously) copying them.

And what's so wrong about being inspired by Native American culture? Or Japanese culture? Or Masaai culture? I know that for every person who 'gets it' that there are ten others in bad warpaint, but I never had the intent of spawning a legion of 'sexy steampunk Sacagaweas' (who continues to be played by non-Native American actresses in films, if you want a real offense). I was thinking something more like a gentleman in a frock coat decorated with Ojibwe-style motifs, or a girl in a Seminole patchwork dress. Perhaps a gunfighter who prefers to wear Comanche leggings, since they're pretty practical for riding and heavy activity.

I will not however, change my opinion that if done correctly, a person can wear the traditional day-to-day clothing of another culture. If you don't agree with this, feel free to launch into a tirade, stop reading, or go harass some kids at an anime convention badly dressed as geisha in halloween store white makeup.

Tomorrow I'll be posting my first of five CYL articles for this month- and I can do so happily knowing that these words are off of my chest.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

BB:The Mishomis Book by Edward Benton-Benai

Mishomis is Ojibwewin for grandfather- which is the perfect word to describe this gem of a book. The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibwe by Edward Benton-Benai has been an affectionate tribal staple (it's commonly called the Ojibwe children's bible) for years in addition to being taught in classrooms, which is where I first encountered it. At first glance it might seem childish, particularly for college academics, but its content is undeniably poignant wrapped in this simple package.

The Mishomis Book is a collection of stories, lessons, and line-drawn pictures narrated by the friendly Mishomis (grandfather) and his wife Nokomis (grandmother). They take you on a journey from the creation of the world of the Anishinaabeg (literally 'first people'. Anishinaabeg is an Ojibwewin word to describe the three major tribes of the Great Lakes region of the United States: the Ojibwe, the Odawa, and the Bodewademi- the latter of which I am descended from) to the great flood, to the origins of the water drum and Midewewin ceremonies. Along the way you learn basic Ojibwe words in a very easy-to-digest format, peppered into the fabric of the stories.

The art might look like something befitting a coloring book, but scattered in the corners and margins of the illustrations are real Anishinaabeg motifs (some of which make fantastic appliques and embroidery patterns). In a way, the entire book is designed to be like this: educational, but without stuffing constant information down your throat. I feel confident recommending this book to anyone from five years old on up- some of the stories would make fantastic bedtime material for children.

If possible, order it from Birch Bark Books, which is an independent Native American bookstore out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Birch Bark not only carries and sponsors many titles by native authors, but also organizes events, lectures, and drives to nourish the community and acquaint them with the culture of Native American tribes.

An Ojibwe floral design, one of many seen in the book.

Native American Steampunk- An Approach

Eastern Woodlands Nativepunk- a concept sketch by Miss Kagashi

First of all, sorry about the lack of posts lately, friends- I've been preparing for Teslacon in Madison, WI this week, in addition to taking some mid-terms, so my brain has been somewhat frazzled lately. However, I'm glad to say that I'm back and ready to tackle a month of fascinating content (granted, I am a bit biased...).

Native American Steampunk. What comes to mind? I asked the venerable Google- it gave me this (amongst other) results:

While I admire the artist's style and overall execution, I admit (openly) that I'm not a fan of the concept. Is Native American steampunk just general stereotypical steampunk with feathers and turquoise? This particular artist says a very emphatic no. Take into account that this is my interpretation and opinion on what I think Native American steampunk (or Nativepunk, as I call it for short) could be and I am only one voice- but take these fairly universal points into consideration:

Native American steampunk is post-contact. While some Native American cultures possessed knowledge of working copper, there is no evidence of them using this for steam power. However, since the Age of Steam is post-contact, it's perfectly feasible that native peoples were using or adapting Western technology to suit their needs, even if it's using the scraps.

The story of Native Americans in the Age of Steam is one of survival. The peoples of the Plains used every portion of a slain buffalo- not only for spiritual respect of the animal, but common practicality. This mentality becomes even more important post-contact, as game decreases, lands are taken away, and army rations become nothing more than broken promises- so the need to scrounge, scavange, and improvise is dire. Both Western and traditional clothing was worn for necessity- as was the unfortunate and eventual adaptation to firearms and other Western products. This should be reflected in Nativepunk.

Unless you are of Native American descent and understand the reasoning behind it or have received permission from a tribal authority or researcher, do not involve religious or spiritual items in your steampunk.
Certain objects and garments hold a lot of power or communicate the status of the wearer such as Plains war bonnets, Plains breastplates, and Woodlands wampum belts. What I'm going to condone is the use of certain garments and decorative styles instead of these items to create your kit. Furthermore do not wear your ensemble to a powwow or Native reenactment, I beg you.

Most important of all: DO YOUR RESEARCH. Each and every tribe is different- so do not assume that if you mix certain stereotypical elements together that you'll have a Nativepunk ensemble. If you don't do your research, not only will you look a mess, but people in the know can and will call you out on it (believe me, I know). Basically, don't be a bad Halloween costume, give these people the respect that their art deserves.

The idea of steampunk involving the art and style of indigenous cultures can be a very daunting, if not controversial one. While no one worries about using (and utterly butchering) Elizabethan styles because... well... Elizabethans are dead, the descendents of indigenous culture not only remain, but also have ownership of their traditional dress. I believe that even a non-Native person can involve Native American garments in their ensemble in a manner that is both artistically exciting and mindful towards these living descendents. I followed all of these steps, and when I showed my design to various members of tribes of the Three Fires (the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Bodewademie) the reactions ranged from amusement to respectful acknowledgement. One comment that particularly stuck with me was the reassurance that," This is art, not regalia. When I see this, I see art that was inspired by the beauty of my ancestors, so no one possesses it since. It's not offensive."

I'm excited to start making this outfit, and I hope that some of you will be inspired in the coming month to involve some of the art of these peoples in your work and do it in a manner to honor them.

Tlingit shaman- 1906