“The idea of a design comes into the mind by itself and if you do not make it, you lose it, and it never comes back again.”

– Penobscot beadworker to Frank Speck in Symbolism in Penobscot Art (1927).

Beginning in the early 1700s, Native Peoples began to produce beaded moccasins and purses for sale to outsiders. These items, admired for their superb craftsmanship and exquisite beadwork, found a ready market among non-Natives. Beadworkers adapted traditional designs and borrowed new motifs and ideas, creating beaded forms that had no counterparts in their own culture. By the mid-nineteenth century, any imaginable fabric-covered household items could be ornamented with beadwork. Tea cozies, needlecases, watch pockets and ladies’ reticules were painstakingly beaded with tiny brilliantly colored seed beads. Each piece represented dozens of hours of work, in addition to the cost of materials – fabric and beads. Beadwork flourished among those who had ready access to materials and who received enough remuneration from their work to make their handiwork economically viable.

tea cozy

Maliseet Tea Cozy,  c.1875

Nancy & Roger Prince (NTP 14)

Seneca-style Double Watch Pocket, c.1830

With inscription : “James Percey Davey from his esteemed friend Wm Barry Ph…”

Nancy & Roger Prince (NTP 21)

double watch pocket

Mi’kmaq or Maliseet-style Purse, c.1875

Nancy & Roger Prince (NTP 18)

Maliseet-style Domed Cap, c.1850-1870
This cap is composed of six triangular-shaped panels.Maine State Museum (96.16.1)
domed cap
Tree-of-Life motif box

Maliseet Tree-of-Life Motif Box, c.1840

Nancy & Roger Prince (NTP 16)

Seneca-style envelope needle case, c.1860

Needle cases were an essential part of the Victorian woman’s sewing kit.

Nancy & Roger Prince (NTP 23)

envelope needle case