Child’s Parka

Archives | Alaska

Child’s Parka

Alaska

Yup’ik Eskimo (Inuit) waterproof coat

Seal gut, sealskin, fur and red and natural fibers
19th century
Height: 20 in. (51 cm)
width: 26 ¼ in. (67 cm)

Collected at Gambell Village, St Lawrence Island.
Ex collection The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio, inventory number 80.0.24.
Ex Cowan’s Auction Inc., Cincinnati, American Indian and Western Art, March 31, 2007, lot 42.
Ex private collection, Canada.

Sold
This is an eminently poetic gutskin child’s parka. It combines technical prowess with an artistry evolved from an ancient heritage. As stated by the McCord Museum in Canada, hooded pullover parka made of creamy opaque gutskin (sea mammal intestines) was worn by Inuit men and women over other clothes for protection against sea-spray or sleet, and for ceremonial purposes. Sea mammal intestines and other membranes undergo complex processing, including several washings, peeling inside and out, and scraping with a blunt scraper. With intestines, one end is tied, the tube inflated, the other end tied and the sausage-like coils hung to dry.
To make a waterproof parka, the Inuit seamstress cuts the intestines into the required lengths and sews it aligned vertically or horizontally according to function or locale. She uses a waterproof stitch that does not penetrate any part of the garment exposed to moisture.
The entire production of one sea mammal coat could take up to a month.

Regarding the provenance of this parka, the Western Reserve Historical Society, founded in May 1867, is Cleveland’s oldest existing cultural institution. It was established as the historical branch of the Cleveland Library Association which dated from 1848.

Documentation

Aleut hunters and Kayaker with gut parkas.
Waldemar Jochelson, History ethnology and anthropology of the Aleut, 1909

Lomen Brothers
Eskimo in Rain Suit

Alaska
Circa 1900
Vintage gelatin silver print

Height: 4 ¾ in.
Width: 2 ¾ in.

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