This elaborately Beaded Vest (2013) was inspired by the catalogs for the Burpee Seed Company, an online purveyor of gardening supplies. Whereas much Native American beadwork features flat, abstract designs, Marcus Amerman (Choctaw, Born 1959) stitches each bead individually, alternating colors to create three-dimensional effects. The result is vivid imagery that leaps off the surface and defies our expectations of the medium.
Although the realism and commercial source of Amerman’s imagery are nontraditional, floral imagery has a long history within Native North American beadwork as an art form and a symbol of cultural resilience. Floral imagery emerged as a mainstay of beadwork during the fur trade, when beaded horse gear, bags, and clothing found a ready market among non-Native traders and settlers. As Native groups were disrupted and displaced by expansion, disease and war, floral imagery retained symbolic meaning known only to tribes, forming a visual language capable of surviving the destructive forces of empire.
Photographed in the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, CA.
One of my favorite museums to visit when I am in L.A. is the Autry Museum of The American West, located in Griffith Park, which was co-founded by singing cowboy actor Gene Autry. Autry built the museum, which opened in 1988 (ten years before his death) to exhibit and interpret the heritage of the West and show how it influenced America and the world. It’s really a fantastic place with a huge collection of Old West memorabilia, movie props and costumes, western-inspired toys, Native American artworks and artifacts, galleries full of antique fire arms, and rotating exhibits that are both fun and educational. I cannot recommend it highly enough for any tourist, and if you live California, you simply must go.
Autry became a Sergeant in the US Airforce and served as a pilot and Flight Officer during World War II. While in the service, he continued to perform and wore this Pink Silk Shirt by Rodeo Ben Western Wear (circa 1940s) at U.S. Bond rallies and as a USO performer. It’s amazing that the shirt is so well preserved and is still in excellent condition nearly eighty years after its creation.
If you haven’t yet been to the Gene Autry Museum of the American West, you need to add that to your list of cool things to do when you are in the Los Angeles area, because the place is just amazing (bonus: the museum is located directly across a shared parking lot from the LA Zoo.). I had the chance to explore this history-rich landmark in December, when I was visiting family for Christmas, and I had all kinds of crazy fun.
Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush, who were Michael Jackson’s longtime costume designers, were asked to create a pair of Metal Cowboy Boots (circa 1990) for Jackson. The designers found inspiration in sabatons, the part of a knight’s armor that protected the foot. The singer wore these boots to the White House in April of 1990 to received the Artist of the Decade award from President George H.W. Bush.
Photographed in the Autry National Center in Los Angeles.