Beaded Cape

by Courtney Wilson

Art is a reflection of culture as well as one of the forms of interaction with other cultures. - Frank Ettawageshik­ 1

Object Description

Jicarilla Apache
Female's cape 66"x 16"
Deer hide with glass bead embroidery

Astor Collection

The John Jacob Astor family played a dominant role in the early development of Manhattan, New York. Owning the majority of real estate in Upper Manhattan, the family also owned many upper class hotels. One of particular interest is the Hotel Astor that once stood in Times Square at the beginning of the twentieth century. The hotel claimed to be "the rendezvous of New York Society during the matinee, dinner, and after-theatre hours. 2 One of the hotel's claim to fame was their American Indian Hall located in the bottom floor of the building. American people of the time had a deep fascination with the history of their country, and they recognized that their history included Native American peoples. Interestingly, they failed to pull Native American's out of the past and realize their existence in the present moment. The idea of the "vanishing Indian" was very romantic, but by the end of the 1930's the sparkle was gone.

Visiting the American Indian Hall, guests at the hotel could view objects reflecting American Indian's lifestyles from the entire continent. The Indian Hall was divided into eight sections. The Jicarilla Apache beaded cape was interestingly placed in the Shoshone section in-between the Alaskan and Sioux rooms. More specifically this article of clothing was displayed with a pair of leggings, some tobacco bags, pipes, bowls, moccasins, and two war implements. All of these objects created an arc on the wall that rainbowed over a huge dried sea bass.

It is curious as to why the beaded cape was put in the Shoshone room. The lucid answer might be because there was not a section designated specifically to the Apache tribe. Moreover, the creators of the Grill Room may have been confused with the Jicarilla Apache object because Jicarilla Apaches share many similarities with three different tribal groups- the Southwestern Pueblo's, the Athabaskans, and the Plains Indians. There were two Plains Indians sections in the Grill Room- the Shoshone section and the Sioux section. Of these two tribes the Sioux share more similarities with the Jicarilla Apache, so it is a wonder as to why the beaded cape was not displayed with them. Moreover, the Sioux wore beaded capes as well. Shoshone clothing looks very different from the Jicarilla Apache's. Their women wore an apron styled outfit, and in the colder months they draped over themselves blankets made out of numerous rabbit hides. If the creators of the exhibit knew these specifics about the Plains tribes then the beaded cape would have ended up in the Sioux Room.

There was a Pueblo Room and an Athabaskan Room, as well. The Jicarilla Apache share many similarities with these two groups, but it is mostly in the realm of pottery and language. Not knowing the extent of the exhibitor's knowledge of American Indians makes it difficult to decipher how they made their decision. If the creators knew of the parallels with the three groups that influenced the Jicarilla Apaches then it is more evident as to why they may have been troubled with where to put the object. Perhaps, the beadwork on the cape may have just fit better aesthetically with the Shoshone objects. Nevertheless, when looking at the other objects in the Astor Collection, one should be wary of the tribal origin placed on it.

The American Indian Hall originated in William C. Muschenheim's imagination, but it was his brother Fred A. Muschenheim who materialized the exhibit. The majority of the objects on display were collected through the Benham Trading Company. Fortunately for the University of Virginia, Nancy Langhorne Astor grew up in Albemarle County. As a result of her fondness to the area and the University, she and University of Virginia President John Newcomb coordinated the transfer of the Native American objects from New York to Charlottesville, Virginia. As stated before, the fascination for American Indians had faded by the 1930s; it was at this time that the exhibit was taken down and then moved to the University of Virginia.

Culture Area

The Jicarilla Apache reside in the Southwest amongst tribes such as the Navajo and the Zuni. Deserts, mountains, and a dry plateau surround the land in the Southwest region. The Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts come in from the north, as well as, the Colorado Plateau. A mountain belt called the Mogollan Rim comes into central Arizona and New Mexico's southwestern region. The Jicarilla Apache's present day reservation is located in northern New Mexico, and it consists of almost one million acres of land.

Linguistically, the Jicarilla Apache's belong to the Athabaskan language family. The Athabaskans trickled down from Canada around 1300 A.D. Included in this language group are the Navajo Indians. There are six recognized Apache tribes today, and the Athabaskan-speaking Navajo are sometimes considered as a seventh group. The other six are: the Jicarilla, the Lipan, the Kiowa, the Mescalero, the Chiricahua, and the Western Apache.

Although agriculture was practiced, hunting and gathering was the mainstay. Buffalo were the most important game, but other animals the Jicarilla Apache hunted were deer, antelope, elk, and mountain sheep. The food that grew in the wild that the Jicarilla Apache's ate were berries, acorns, pinon, and grass seeds.

There are two groups of Jicarilla Apache's: the olleros or the "potters" and the llaneros or the "plainsmen". These terms came from the Spanish who first arrived in the region in 1540 A.D. To the Spanish the olleros were very similar to the Pueblo Indians and the llaneros had similar qualities to the Plains Indians.

The clothing of the Jicarilla Apache men and women usually were made out of a mule-deer hide. The men wore a poncho-type shirt that had long fringes that hung down from the shoulders and arms; this long fringe is characteristic of the Southern Plains style. Surprisingly, the men wore their traditional clothing well into modern times. The women on the other hand, adopted the "pioneer" dress late in the nineteenth century. A "pioneer" dress was a long, one-pieced cotton patterned dress that had a ruffled skirt and a snug bodice and sleeves. The Jicarilla Apache women, unlike other Apache tribes, did not adopt the "camp dress." Prior to acculturation of "white" apparel, the Jicarilla Apache women wore a two-skin deer hide dress that was sewn along the shoulders and down the sides. It was simplistically belted and relatively unornamented except for it had lots of fringe. Sensibly, the dress could be turned into a more formal wear with the addition of a beaded cape. An example of such a formal occasion in which the beaded cape would be worn is the ceremony that celebrated a girl coming to age. This ceremony will be further discussed in the "Meaning of the Object" section.

Tourist Art

When looking at the objects in the Astor Collection, and realizing the era in which they came from, one should question for what purpose the object was created. The Indian culture has been under assault by white settlers ever since the 1500s. There has always been the pressure to assimilate and discard the culture for non-Indian ways. In order to overcome the tension most Native American tribes chose to approach their new situation with stubbornness but also adaptation. Many traditions were held onto but changes did occur. In the 1800s when whites became more interested in buying Native American goods, many argue that the goods became less authentic as a result of their mass production for the whites. Also, buyers were upset that some Indian artists were using non-indigenous materials. As Ruth Phillips puts it, "objects that incorporated Western materials, styles, and forms failed satisfy the longing among Western consumers." 3 Other complaints were that the Indian goods had become a commodity and commodities are "produced for external markets and not used by the producers themselves. 4 In effect, the authenticity again is undermined. Collectors now were measuring Native American art on whether or not it was "uncorrupted," "pure," or "authentic." Authenticity sits in a gray area, though. Can one say that artistic development and originality by the artist leads to corruption of authenticity? Furthermore, is authenticity measured through "redundancy rather than originality?" 5

The market in which Natives sold their objects to, labeled their art as "tourist art." Many of the essays written in Unpacking Culture surprisingly celebrates tourist art for various reasons. First of all, Native American art was not losing its authenticity. No one can claim that anything that changes is unauthentic, or otherwise Native Americans themselves would not be considered authentic either. The essays also say that in many cases, if it were not for the stores that sold to the tourist trade then many artistic skills would have become dormant. Tourist art, in that case, kept the Indian culture alive. A benefit of the survival of Indian art is that art reflects "culture as well as ...the interaction with other cultures. 6 To study the art of the Indians can bring someone closer to understanding that particular culture. The book also points out, in the favor of tourist art, that the Indian objects were "externally directed yet compatible with the internal and socially embedded." 7 Creating art for the purpose of selling it does not take its value away, however, the objects do serve a different purpose now. When sold to outsiders they become "separated [from their] customary social and ritual roles." 8 It becomes a souvenir- an item for others to take with them, but an item that can always evoke its past.

The most common objects of trade in the Southwest are pieces of pottery and woven baskets. The Jicarilla Apache's are well known for their basketry. Even when the Spanish arrived they were quite impressed with the Jicarilla Apache basket work. In fact, the name Jicarilla was given by the Spanish and it means "little basket makers." Although the Jicarilla Apache's sold their baskets in the tourist market, sacred items such as the beaded cape would have never been sold for tourism. Recently I spoke with a Jicarilla Apache named Brian Veho, and I asked him whether or not beaded capes were ever produced as tourist art- his answer was an assertive no. On a different occasion, though, he said that times were tough for the Jicarilla Apache in the early part of the century, and a cape or two might have been sold. The important thing to note, though, is that when the beaded capes were created there was no intent for selling them. Consequently, the cape was never altered to appease a consumer. The beaded cape in the Astor Collection was more than likely sold or possibly even given as a gift.

Meaning of the Object

The Jicarilla beaded cape in the Astor Collection was made for a particular ceremony of a girl coming to age. This moment is marked when a girl starts her first menstrual cycle; she is usually between the ages of twelve and fourteen. The girl immediately tells her mother, but it is not until the morning after the next New Moon when the actual ceremony starts. In the mean time, large quantities of food is gathered for the ceremony; especially corn to make tiswin, a maize beer. It is not clear whether or not the beaded cape has already been constructed or if it is at this time when the mother starts to make it. In any case, the cape is made from a unblemished deer hide- one that does not have any arrow holes in it.

The father's role is to look for a singer. The father brings a cigarette made with corn leaves to the man he wants to have sing at his daughter's ceremony. When he arrives he places the cigarette on the singer's right foot. If the man agrees to sing then he will pick up the cigarette but not smoke it until the ceremony. Next, the father must find a partner who will participate in the ceremony with his daughter. This boy is not supposed to be a relative, and he should be around the same age as the girl. His role In the ceremony is very important. He stands for either the "water's child" or the "monster slayer."

The myth of the "water's child":


Two girls wandered away from the others and slept on a mountain. One day while one of them was sleeping, the sun lay with her. That night water came to the other girl. The first, who became known as "Painted Woman," conceived and bore the child who was named "Monster's Slaver." The second girl, who became "White Shell Woman," gave birth to "Water's Child." 9

The adolescent rite is in honor of these two girls. The partner in the ceremony represents one of the two children born; it does not really matter which one since both woman are being celebrated in the ceremony. The ceremony also celebrates and wishes a long and fruitful life for the girl, as well as, blessing her to bare healthy children. The ceremony is four days long, and each day the girl's family provides three meals for everyone.

During the ceremony, which begins at dawn, the girl will either be called "White Painted Woman" or "White Shell Woman." She and her partner go inside a designated tepee and sit on an elk-skin blanket. A turkey feather has been placed on each side of the tepee, for the turkey stands for growing foods. A fire is made in the center of the tepee, and the girl's and the boy's faces are then painted. Their clothes are taken off and new ones are put on them after the singer sprinkles pollen and specular iron ore on the clothes. He sings while he sprinkles and while the mother dresses her daughter. After the girl is dressed the mother puts ashes or yellow ochre on the girls' eyebrows so that they can be plucked out easily. Next the "big shell" is used. The "big shell" is white, flat, and disc­shaped with a hole in its center. During the ceremony it is rubbed under the girl's armpits and pubic area and bare brow area. The shell hangs around the girl's neck throughout the rest of the puberty rite.

Next, the singer gives the girl and the boy rules they must follow for the duration of the ceremony. Some rules concern restrictions on what to eat and how to sleep. Afterwards, the two go outside of the tepee for the running part of the ceremony. This part ensures that they will forever be fast runners. That night there is singing of ritual songs, dancing, and a midnight feast for guests and relatives. For the next three days of the ceremony there are no new features except for an increase in the number of dance songs. On the fourth night, though, the girl and the boy dance until the next morning, and in the mean time the singer places a kernel of corn down by the fire for every song he sings. When the sun rises the kernels of corn are distributed to those who are present, and the people eat them for good health. On this fifth morning the singer paints the girl and the boys faces with red and black markings. This is done while the sun is coming up. The ceremony has now come to an end and the girl is now eligible to be married.

In terms of specific qualities about the cape, the beadwork has derivatives from both the Central and Southern Plains. From the Central Plains the Jicarilla Apache adopted large and simple designs, for example, broad stepped and truncated pyramids. As for the Southern Plains the Jicarilla Apache borrowed the very narrow edging bands with small designs on a white background. The type of stitch that is used on the capes is a "lazy stitch." This method presents a corrugated effect.

It is hard to determine what the colors mean on the cape as a result of the difficulty in contacting well knowledge people on the topic. Dody Fugate, the Assistant Curator of the Archaeological Research Collection at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, is able to speak a little on the iconography of the beaded cape. She says that blue usually represents the south, and orange represents corn pollen. Both of these interpretations do seem very fitting for the beaded cape; especially since corn and pollen are used extensively throughout the Adolescent Rite. Dody further states that the diamonds around the neckline of the cape are typically a Pueblo religious symbol. The Pueblo's, as stated before, have influenced the Jicarilla Apache, and this cape might be an example. Brian Veho from the Jicarilla Apache Reservation Cultural Center says the geometric pattern was definitely created by a woman, and the deer skin was also tanned by a woman- usually the mother or an aunt. As for the black and white scalloped edging Brain says this particular part signifies what family the girl belongs to, and sometimes instead of black beads dark blue ones are used. In the "Other Images" section there are examples of differently shaped edgings on the capes. As for the four layers of white stripes and the four layers of black stripes Brian says the number four is important to the tribe. Many things in the Jicarilla Apache tribe revolve around this number- four seasons, four directions, four winds, four days of the ceremony ...etc. Lastly, Brian says when a rectangle is placed within another rectangle it signifies a garden. The connotations behind a garden clearly denoted fertility which is one of the things the ceremony is blessing. In order to truly understand the Jicarilla Apache Adolescent Rite it would be helpful to understand the significance of the beadwork on the cape. The lack of information found is very bothersome, and it would have been very helpful to have gotten a hold of Joyce Harold at the Denver Museum of Natural History and an Apache woman named Joyce who is a friend to Dody Fugate.


Berlo, Janet. C. Native North American Art . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Curtis, Edward. North American Indian . New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1907. V.1.

Douglas, Frederic Huntington. Denver Art Museum. "Material Cultural Notes: Reports from the Ethnographic Laboratory." Denver, Colorado, 1939.

Douglas, Frederic Huntington. Jicarilla and Mescalero beadwork: A Preliminary Note .

Fugate, Dody. (Interview) The Assistant Curator of the Archaeological Research Collection at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. December 2002.

Gebhard, David. Indian Art of the Northern Plains . California: Standard Printing of Santa Barbara, Inc., 1974.

Muschenheim, WM.C. "The Culmination of Years of Artistic Study: Hotel Astor Indian Hall Catelogue," 1930s?

Opler, Morris Edward. Childhood and Youth in Jicarilla Apache Society . Frederick Webb Hodge Anniversary Publication Fund. Los Angeles: The Southwest Museum Administrator of the Fund, 1946. V.10

Paterek, Josephine. Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume . Denver, Colorado: ABC-Clio, 1994.

Phillips, Ruth B. Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Spier, Leslie. American Anthropologist . Menasha, Wisconsin: The American Anthropological Association, 1936. V.38

Thomas, David Hurst. A Great Basin Shoshonean Source Book . New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1986.

Tiller, Veronica E. Velarde. The Jicarilla Apache Tribe: A History 1846-1970 . Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.

Trenton, Patricia. Native Americans: Five Centuries of Changing Images . New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1989.

Veho, Brian. (Interview) Jicarilla Apache Reservation Cultural Center. December 2002. Wilson, Courtney. "Our Lady." Spring 2002

1. Phillips, Ruth B. Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. pg.29

2. Muschenheim, WM.C. "The Culmination of Years of Artistic Study: Hotel Astor Indian Hall Catelogue," 1930s?

3. Phillips, Ruth B. Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. pg. 10

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid., pg. 101

6. Ibid., pg. 29

7. Ibid., pg. 83

8. Ibid.

9. Opler, Morris Edward. Childhood and Youth in Jicarilla Apache Society . Frederick Webb Hodge Anniversary Publication Fund. Los Angeles: The Southwest Museum Administrator of the Fund, 1946. V.10, pg. 105.