Cover image for Trading identities : the souvenir in Native North American art from the Northeast, 1700-1900
Trading identities : the souvenir in Native North American art from the Northeast, 1700-1900
Phillips, Ruth B. (Ruth Bliss), 1945-
Publication Information:
Seattle : University of Washington Press ; Montreal, Quebec : McGill-Queen's University Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xvii, 334 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E78.E2 P55 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



This book examines a range of art forms produced by Indians in northeastern North America for sale to travelers and tourists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Aboriginal peoples of the Woodlands were the first in North America to experience economic and social marginalization and, in consequence, the first to rely on the production of commodities for the tourist trade. These hybrid art forms combine indigenous materials and techniques such as quillwork, moosehair embroidery, birchbark, and basketry with Euro-American genres and styles. Tourist art of the period is generally of high quality and great aesthetic interest. Yet scholars have largely ignored these objects because of their incorporation of Euro-North American influences.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the production, sale, and consumption of tourist art constituted a system for the circulation of objects within which images of Indianness were negotiated. To produce marketable commodities, Aboriginal people constructed images of themselves that mediated European notions of the savage, the natural, and the primitive. By accepting this imagery, colonizers and settlers naturalized their own identities as the rightful successors to the "Indians." While stereotypes of Indianness were being transported into parlors and bedchambers, the objects made for sale were also influencing things Aboriginal people made for their own use. The beaded purses, pincushions, and shopping baskets carried Euro-American styles and concepts into aboriginal communities, together with associated ideas of gender roles and domestic organization.

An innovative combination of fieldwork, art historical analysis, and historical contextualization, this study for the first time rigorously compares a Native souvenir production to a wide range of Euro-American decorative arts and home crafts. It identifies the sources of object types and styles and reveals the innovative differences displayed by Aboriginal trade wares. Images newly uncovered in archives and travel literature--including depictions of Native vendors and makers--illustrate the book, along with never before displayed or published objects from museum collections in Europe and North America.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Phillips tackles the difficult issue of the way in which items made by native people for sale to nonnatives fits into art history by examining objects and artists from both native and nonnative perspectives and by looking at how both cultures interpreted the objects and how these interpretations changed art, artist, and consumer. She argues that souvenirs, although designed to appeal to non-Indian tastes and purchased by collectors as examples of Indian identity and mementos of interaction with an exotic other, were considered art by the creators and should be included in Native American art history. Looking at how different cultures regarded the various items and how the makers adopted nonnative ideas allows Phillips to evaluate many different images, objects, and ideas, including the adoption of moose hair embroidery and floral designs. The analysis is well documented with photographs and quotations from 18th- and 19th-century publications as well as interviews with contemporary artists. The depth of coverage provides information relevant to many different issues and would be useful to various research projects. Dealing with the transformation of images and their multiple meanings, however, requires sophisticated understanding that may be beyond the skills of many undergraduates. M. J. Schneider University of North Dakota