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North American Indian Silver Craft
Precious little has ever been published about the jewellery—often exquisite, and symbolically rich—made by First Nations silversmiths. One of the few sources is a series of essays by the famous Canadian poet E. Pauline Johnson, also known as Tekahionwake. They appeared in an obscure American magazine in 1910. A few years later, after she had been...
Precious little has ever been published about the jewellery—often exquisite, and symbolically rich—made by First Nations silversmiths. One of the few sources is a series of essays by the famous Canadian poet E. Pauline Johnson, also known as Tekahionwake. They appeared in an obscure American magazine in 1910. A few years later, after she had been diagnosed with cancer, Johnson revisited the material, revising and rearranging it slightly, evidently with book publication in mind. But death intervened in 1913 and the manuscript was never published. It appears only now, in an inexpensive pocket-sized edition, complete with Johnson’s own drawings of several key pieces. Pauline Johnson was a poet, short story writer, essayist—and celebrity. In the last years of the 19th century and the first of the 20th, she was the most famous living writer of indigenous ancestry, known, through her books and public readings, to readers in the United States, Britain and especially her native Canada. Some regarded her as an authority on aboriginal affairs but at times she felt as much an outsider among Natives as among whites, who referred to the "Indian poetess." Indeed, she spent her entire life walking a tightrope between the white and the Native worlds. Her predicament seemed to be symbolized by the fact that, on her long and hugely successful personal appearance tours, she wore a version of Native attire during the first part of the show but changed into a middle-class mainstream outfit for the second. Her audiences were usually white, and they found her a person of enormous charm and charisma. In 1908, with her writing and performing career in decline, Johnson moved to Vancouver, where she long had had a loyal following. She supported herself there by journalism, including a suite of articles originally printed under the umbrella title "The Silver Craft of the Mohawks". Her retelling of Native myth and legend, and look at the silver ornaments symbolizing them, will be of interest both to students of First Nations cultures and to admirers of craftsmen in silver. North American Indian Silver Craft will also form part of the ongoing reappraisal of Pauline Johnson and her contribution to Native culture.
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