Thursday, 28 April 2016

A moose-hide banyan?

A hide coat in the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum has been sparking a great deal of interest lately. Obtained from a local Oxford dealer of 'antiquities' in 1906, this amazing coat is in what we believe is traditionally tanned moose-hide, with stylised painted designs around the hem, porcupine quillwork on the back, and a flamboyant wool brocade facing.
PRM 1906.83.1

PRM 1906.83.1 back

The coat is cut in a style reminiscent of a banyan, a type of garment brought back to Britain from India in the eighteenth century and popularized as a comfortable, warm indoor garment.

This makes it a garment of multiple cultural affiliations. Did a British man bring a cloth banyan to Hudson’s Bay and have it reworked in hide for wearing inside a cold, drafty fur post? The coat’s quillwork and moose-hide remind us of the cross-cultural marriages and creative hybridity at the heart of fur trade society in what is now Canada.

To better understand the coat’s cut and its relationship to other European men’s garments of the early 19th century, PRM has had several students with textile and fashion expertise create a pattern from the original garment. The latest version, by Charlotte Linton, has refined earlier attempts and will now be duplicated so that we can send the pattern to costume experts and to First Nations seamstresses. Cross-cultural objects require cross-cultural research methodologies!

Sewing pattern for PRM 1906.83.1 by Charlotte Linton

 As part of this process of learning, the banyan has been studied by the Object Lives group, a scholarly network which focuses on objects that move across cultural boundaries. Our blog post about the coat, and the Object Lives website, can be found here. We’ll be thinking about it again next week at a group research session in Montreal, as we prepare a virtual exhibition from the group’s collaborative, multinational, cross-cultural approach to exciting objects such as this.

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