Nathalie Bertin

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Beadwork

The Moccushions© Project

Stories and tales are a part of childhood. Parents will often tell us a bedtime story as we lay with our heads on our pillows, listening to their soothing voice as we are lulled to sleep. In Ojibway and Metis tradition, stories are meant for entertainment but also to instill practical knowledge. Moccasins are another traditional item that warm our feet but also connect us to the earth. During special occasions, we are often gifted new, hand-made moccasins with special beadwork that signifies the event to keep us grounded in life. Tales and traditional dress make up a large part of the Métis culture.

Named the “Moccushion©”, the cushion’s physical construction is based on the Metis moccasin design. What would normally be the vamp is now the top of the cushion which interprets the story with beads. The project serves to introduce the Métis culture through an initial series of eight Moccushions that interpret traditional tales before they are lost with time.

OAC

A grant has been gratefully received by the Ontario Arts Council for the production of the series.

Shown on the right (click image or title below for more information on each piece):
1: Moccushion - The Hunter & the Lost Children
2: Moccushion - Wisakajak & the Sea Gulls
3: Moccushion - The Hunter & the Wolf

Below: 4: Moccushion - A Mother's Love

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A little Metis Art history...

The Metis are the first Canadians – meaning the hybrid people created from the unions of First Nations and the initial immigrant Europeans settlers. The Metis evolved into a distinct, thriving indigenous people. During Canada’s fur trade period, the Metis women would bead articles for sale to participate in their household economy. Items beaded ranged from saddle bags and gun holsters to coats, mitts or moccasins. Despite the prolific popularity of these beaded items, they were never attributed to Metis women at the time. Reasons for this include the market demand for authentic items from "real Indians" (the Metis were not yet recognized as an indigenous group), and Metis families who were trying to blend in to a largely racist settlement society did not want to be found out as being of mixed blood by European community members or even the local Indian Agent.

The traditional Metis design style is distinct. It is a blend of early First Nations geometric beading and highly detailed European floral designs. The mix evolved into a very stylized, colourful floral design. Due to the range of items that Metis women beaded, they popularly became known as the “Flower Beadwork People”. The distinctive Métis art, which is the blending of First Nations and European art forms into a new art form, is considered the first Canadian art form*.

The pieces shown, the Moccushion, is a pillow (or cushion) but its construction is based on the traditional Metis-style moccasin. Materials used for the Moccushion are also common to the moccasin. Leather, fur, Melton wool and beads are used to handcraft the piece. The beadwork that makes moccasins so distinctive is used to decorate this hybrid cushion but is also used to symbolize a certain story or theme.

Shown above: Moccushions - Little Red Riding Hood Re-interpreted


Source: “The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America”, edited by Jacqueline Peterson and Jennifer S. H. Brown, The University of Manitoba Press, 1985, ISBN: 0-88755-617-5.

© Nathalie Bertin, 2009-2019.
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