Stories, Learning & Place

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Nez Perce Aesthetic
   Rare beauty

Nez Perce dressPrairiemary (AKA Mary Strachan Scriver), blogging from Valier, Montana, invites us to see the sophisticated and subtle beauty of an ancient buckskin dress, probably of Nez Perce origin. She explains the Japanese concept of “Shibui”, which refers to “the type of beauty that doesnt need announcement; its quality speaks for itself.” The Japanese think of beauty in levels—"from blatant, brash, and bold to the ideal of beauty: Shibui.” The hallmarks of this level of aesthetics are “understated elegance, utility (each piece serves an important function), rare beauty, and unobtrusive sophistication.”

She nominates a pre-1820 dress from North America as an illustration of “Shibui.” Patched and fringed with pale but not white buckskin, the top is banded simply in black and white stripes, “lazy stitch.” which means that a short string of beads is not then tacked down bead by bead, but left to be a little fluid. These dresses are really two deerskins, one as the front and one as the back, pieced at the hem, with the tail (hair on) of the deer folded over at the top under the chin, pinned down with beading. The stripe at the top of the arms alternates black, white and red.

Prairiemarie mentions DNA evidence linking Plains Indians to peoples of the High Mongolian prairies centuries ago. There is a timeless quality to the dress, which for me evokes those moments when we glimpse eternity through the fecund undulations of time.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 05/01 at 08:12 PM
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©2008 Michael L. Umphrey
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