Schoharie County

Expert to open exhibit on Iroquois fashion

“Buckskin to Bikinis: Haudenosaunee Wearable Art” t the Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave showcas
These beaded sneakers, from the collection of the Seneca Iroquois National Museum, were designed by Seneca artist Alyza Bowen.
These beaded sneakers, from the collection of the Seneca Iroquois National Museum, were designed by Seneca artist Alyza Bowen.

Wondering about what to wear is universal.

“Fashion is common ground, something that we all share, and it’s a form of personal expression for everyone,” says Colette Lemmon, curator at the Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave. “It’s our T-shirts, our sneakers; whatever we wear is a way to make a statement about ourselves.”

“Buckskin to Bikinis: Haudenosaunee Wearable Art” showcases the work of Iroquois/Haudenosaunee artists and designers who use a combination of fabric, leather, fur, plastic and other materials to help offer today’s Native Americans an authentic, unique and contemporary fashion option.

The museum opens for the season today, and an exhibition-opening presentation by Jessica Metcalfe will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Metcalfe is a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa from North Dakota and an expert on Native American art and fashion.

‘Buckskin to Bikinis’

WHAT: A Native American exhibit on fashion

WHERE: Iroquois Indian Museum, 324 Caverns Road, Howes Cave

WHEN: Opening reception 1-3 p.m. Saturday, museum open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: Opening reception free. Museum admission: $8; $6.50 seniors and students; $5 for kids 5-12; free for kids under 5

MORE INFO: 296-8949,

“Dr. Metcalfe was the inspiration for this exhibition,” said Lemmon. “I had gone to a conference on native art in Toronto back in 2011, and she gave a session on contemporary native fashion across Canada and the U.S.

“People are pretty familiar with the traditional outfits and regalia the Iroquois make for ceremonial events, but much less celebrated is the less conventional applications of apparel, the everyday wear. There is also very high-end formal wear being produced, and it’s all being designed in the Iroquois context by Iroquois designers and artists.”

The exhibit includes images of Native American clothing as well as some of the actual garments.

“There are pieces that we wear, the traditional ideas and symbols, that are transformed into something new and original, and then we have pieces whose inspiration is being drawn from all over the place,” said Lemmon.

“They are less tied to a direct cultural expression, and then there’s another group that really isn’t meant to be worn. What we’re doing is using clothing to make a statement about something else, such as the breast cancer awareness bra, which is heavily embellished with sequins, gemstones and bead work.”

The items and artwork on display has been collected from Iroquois artists from all across the U.S. and Canada.

“We have work from a designer who’s up on Manitou Island in Canada, another one from Montreal — Texas, Santa Fe. All these artists may be living in other places now, but they still have strong ties to the Haudenosaunee, and they maintain those connections. No matter where they are, they still identify themselves as part of the Iroquois community.”

Metcalfe earned her Ph.D. in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona. She has taught courses in Native studies, studio art, art history, and literature at tribal colleges and state universities.

Her blog, “Beyond Buckskin,” is about Native American fashion, and she also owns and operates a boutique with the same name.

“She’s a very good speaker, and a real authority on the topic,” Lemmon said. “You might think it’s kind of a lightweight subject, but it’s not. There’s a long and very interesting history about Native American fashion and she’s going to talk about how it developed over the years.”

Categories: Entertainment

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