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Jensen, Doreen and Polly Sargent.

Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press in association with the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology, c1986. 86pp, paper, $18.95, ISBN 0-7748-0264-2. (Museum Note #17). Distributed by University of British Columbia Press. CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by Lillian Turner

Volume 15 Number 3
1987 May

The striking black cover with red overlay design of a flying shaman outlined with tiny white circles introduces the reader to a "Robes of Power" exhibition that toured six Australian cities before its arrival at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology in March 1986.

"Robes of Power" are those traditional blankets made and worn as ceremonial robes by Northwest Coast Indian nations exclusive of the Salish-speaking peoples. Such blanket making is an art form outgrowth of totem carving. A personal heritage is depicted by the applique of figures, animal or mythical, drawn from family and clan histories on blanket cloth and outlined with small buttons of shell, mother of pearl, bone, or even plastic. Originally, the designs were put on animal hide, then on blankets bought from the Hudson's Bay Company (for $1.50 each), which accounts for the predominant backgrounds of navy, black, or occasionally white. Now a woven wool or melton cloth is popular. The applique design and border are usually of red flannel with buttons closely outlining both. On rare occasions, the colours are reversed. A white background signifies peace. Dance blankets were often made of muslin, rather than wool, with the design sometimes painted on to reduce the weight and warmth.

Some of the old ceremonial button robes still in existence have served as stimulus to the modern art revival. In this book, several black-and-white photographs and many in colour clearly depict designs of whales, thunderbirds, eagles, ravens, animals, etc. Fairly detailed instructions will assist the novice in designing his/her own robe.

Robes of Power will add to the Northwest Coast Indian social history and art collection, while the fabric art teacher will find novel ideas for wall hangings. There is also an excellent bibliography.

Lillian Turner, York Memorial C.I., Toronto, Ont.
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