Image of rare Anishinaabe regalia from Willmott’s work featured in American Indian Art Magazine 2013 calendar

Anthropology professor Dr. Cory Willmott will have a photograph of a rare regalia dress from the Anishinaabe people featured in the American Indian Art 2013 calendar. The photograph is from an article that Willmott had published in the Summer 2012 issue of  American Indian Art Magazine, which featured articles by members of the Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Culture (GRASAC).

Anishinaabe "tinkle cone" dress (back), c. 1930. The garment was originally bright red and features dentallium shells, glass beads, metal conches and the cones, hand-made from rolled tin cans. The red labeling of the cans can be seen from inside the cones. Photo courtesy of Mark Proudfoot.

Anishinaabe "tinkle cone" dress (back), c. 1930. The garment was originally bright red and features dentallium shells, glass beads, metal conches and the cones, hand-made from rolled tin cans. The red labeling of the cans can be seen from inside the cones. Photograph by Mark Proudfoot.

The dress, pictured at left, is the image for the month of April in the calendar. The garment is what Willmott calls a “tinkle cone” dress. Willmott first saw the dress at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minn., where it remains today.

When Willmott first visited the museum, she did not anticipate even finding a Native American collection at the museum, but having found the collection, she was able to add a significant piece to her research on contemporary Anishinaabe culture.

“When I [first] saw this dress, I thought there was maybe half a dozen in museums that I know of,” she says. “I actually looked up how many of these dresses are in museums, and it’s only three.”

The dress is significant to Willmott and her research not only because it is rare but also because it is from 1930. In researching contemporary Anishinaabe culture, Willmott ventures to know more about an era not often valued by Native American anthropologists and art historians because it is considered to be “contaminated,” as Willmott puts it, by Western influence and expansion.

Willmott calls this contemporary era the Reservation Era, a term she coined in her article in American Indian Art Magazine: “Anishinaabe Regalia of the Reservation Era, 1870s – 1930s.” The main point of her article emphasized that this period of time is critical in Anishinaabe culture and history.

“The reason it’s important is because it is in fact the link to what the contemporary native art genres like powwow regalia grew out of,” Willmott explains. “For example, many native people today have never owned a war club or made a war club. They may have never knew about [certain] kinds of weaving.”

“These things that are in the distant past, the contemporary native people have not had a continuous recollection or artistic tradition with,” she continues, “so that bridging period of the Reservation Era is very important to the reclamation of that history.”

Willmott’s defense of this period has not gone unnoticed, as is proven by the photograph of the dress being featured in the calendar with other images of older, less “Westernized” Native American artifacts and by the fact that one of the other images from her article was featured on the cover of the magazine.

In her article, Willmott discusses the regalia of the Anishinaabe and what the garments men and women wore symbolized politically and what their ceremonial clothing said about their culture during the transitional Reservation Era period. She explores the emerging customs and how the Anishinaabe of this time period were able to express their cultural identity to other tribes and to communicate their values and viewpoints through clothing.

Besides bringing to light the significance of the Reservation Era, Willmott also believes that featuring the “tinkle cone” dress in a calendar and in American Indian Art Magazine also stresses the importance of her method of research, which is exploring smaller museums  around the U.S. for rare and compelling pieces from Native American history and culture.

Willmott calls this a “victory,” as much Native American research tends to focus on large museums, which house mostly collections of very old “uncontaminated” collections of Native American art and artifacts. Her finding the “tinkle cone” dress shows that a small-scale organization like the Runestone Museum can provide exceptional historical finds for anthropologists and art historians.

“The victory is bringing [the dress] out of obscurity from this little museum,” says Willmott. “You wouldn’t even know that they had this collection…In this very unlikely place is this treasure that is not even matched in the world’s largest museums.”

Willmott has found that this concept rings true not just in Alexandria, Minn., but also right here in Southwestern Illinois, including SIUE’s own University Museum.

“All of the [museums] that I have visited and have established connections with in this area also have some very significant pieces that are just basically waiting for scholars who are experts in given fields to come and discover,” says Willmott.

Willmott says that she found many other items in the Runestone Museum collection that she hopes to publish more work on in the future.

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