Textile Tuesday: Cornhusk Bag

close up of red and blue side of corn husk bag
Bag, Idaho, 1900-1929, cornhusk and wool, 23 x 18 in.

Dakota Mace (Diné) recently received her MFA in Textiles from the School of Human Ecology and is a Collections Assistant in the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Kendra Greendeer (Ho-Chunk) is a doctoral student in History of Art and Collection Manager for the Little Eagle Arts Foundation. Together they curated the new exhibition entitled “Intersections: Indigenous Textiles of the Americas,” on view in the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery in Nancy Nicholas Hall until December 6, 2019.

red patterned side of cornhusk bag

Woven cornhusk bags, also known as “flat twined bags,” are unique to Indigenous groups of the Plateau region, which includes North America west of the Rocky Mountains. People used these bags for food storage in the early 19th century and considered them highly valuable for their portability. Artisans twined the cornhusk with materials such as wool, yarn, or cotton to create the bags, adapting them into saddle bags seasonally for transporting goods. The bag is unique from similar cornhusk bags in that it features a different pattern on both sides (rather than just on one), each in a geometric design characteristic of other Plateau region Indigenous groups. 

This fascinating artifact is on display as part of “Intersections: Indigenous Textiles of the Americas,” which examines interrelations between distinct Indigenous cultures across lands colonially named the Americas. The term Indigenous means “native to this land” and is seen as a respectful way of acknowledging Native heritage. The textiles on display reveal relationships forged among many Indigenous cultures as part of an intricate trade network established throughout North, Central, and South America. From the Andes to the Great Lakes, textiles have shaped many cultural narratives of community and nationhood. This exhibition analyzes the interconnectedness of selected textiles from the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection and the Little Eagle Arts Foundation (LEAF), a Ho-Chunk arts organization, to provide a more in-depth understanding of these relationships through study of the lifeways, movement, and stories these objects embody. It is through these points of material and ideological intersection that we trace the interrelations of Native cultural practices and oral traditions throughout our hemisphere and over more than a thousand years of history. These textiles embody the ancestral practices that inform and enable Native artists to create new expression of historic traditions.  

This exhibition was developed with the generous support of honorary curators Jane and David Villa and is part of a series of exhibitions in celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection’s 50th Anniversary. 

#TextileTuesday is a yearlong series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.

HLATC 50th anniversary logo

In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launched a yearlong anniversary celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Over the past half century, the collection has grown from an original 4,000-piece gift to more than 13,000 objects that have inspired and informed thousands of students, researchers, historians, and textile aficionados. The 50-year celebration began on January 27, 2019, with the opening of new Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, a space dedicated to year-round displays of the collections. Activities continue into 2019 with a calendar of public exhibitions, symposia, lectures, and public workshops.

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