October 31, 2008

Button Blankets and Burke 101

Guest writer: Laura Crisp

Hello again from “Burke 101!” If you haven’t come to visit us in the Pacific Voices gallery yet, we hope you do – students in Burke 101 are currently working on a large button blanket project and we need your help!

Here’s some background information for you:

Button blankets are typically worn in many potlatch ceremonies and depict the crest of a clan. Many of the dances in a potlatch cannot be danced by just any tribal member; dancers often must inherit the right to the dance. Because of this link to their ancestors, the dancer will make a point to show their back to the audience so that they can see the family crest. Buttons used on the button blankets were originally made of shell, which was also a type of currency. For a non-native American, this would be like wearing a jacket with your family’s name on it and covering it with money to show your wealth!

Here’s an example of a button blanket from the Burke collections:

The project that we have set up in the Pacific Voices gallery (see website for schedule) is a collaborative effort to create our own version of a button blanket. We have based the design on a Raven creation story and encourage you to come help us add designs to this blanket – but don’t worry, you won’t have to actually sew any buttons on: we’ve substituted round white stickers to make the activity more accessible to a wide variety of visitors. We hope you’ll stop by on one of the Thursdays or Saturdays listed on our schedule.

Photos: (Right) Courtesy of Laura Crisp.
(Left) Kwakwaka'wakw Button Blanket, date made 1940-1970.