Artist Unknown (American, Omaha, 19th century),
, ca. 1850
hide, beads, silk, and bone, 29 x 18½ inches, 73.66 x 46.99 cm
Gift of Wilmuth V. Carpenter in memory of James Franklin Carpenter, 1985.3
Traditional Plains hide clothing — supplely tanned, skillfully made, and often splendidly decorated with paint and quill or beadwork — included robes worn as mantles and generally soft-contoured, loosely fitted dresses, skirts, leggings, and shirts. Coats and jackets, however, appear to be adapted from Canadian or U.S. fashions, often from military styles. These tailored garments frequently were sewn specifically for non-Indians: traders, soldiers, and settlers. In 1851 the Swiss artist Rudolph Kurz (1818–1871), while visiting Bellevue and Council Bluffs, was shown "a man's coat and trousers made of white leather and richly embroidered with silk in Indian fashion"; he reported the cost of such garments to be "as much as $500."
The jacket here is said to have belonged to Logan Fontenelle (1825–1855), a notable figure in Omaha Indian history. His father was Lucien Fontenelle, a prominent French trader, his mother the daughter of Big Elk, a renowned Omaha chief. Educated in St. Louis and fluent in French, English, and Omaha, Fontenelle frequently served as an interpreter. In 1854 he accompanied the delegation of chiefs who signed the government treaty establishing the Omaha reservation in northeast Nebraska. He moved there with his people when they were ordered to leave their village near Bellevue. Fontenelle’s pleas for army protection in their new location against possible attack by the Sioux went unheeded; he was killed by a Sioux raiding party while on a hunting expedition in 1855.
A number of stylistic factors make the attribution of ownership of this jacket by Logan Fontenelle less than certain. The beadwork colors and patterns are typical of the Central Plains in the nineteenth century, but 1850–55 could be considered an early date for these, as well as for the short cut of the jacket and for such extensive use of the red cane beads on the shoulder fringe and the small seed beads in the embroidery. However, the son of an active trader may well have developed a keen interest in and had access to new imported goods and styles before they were commonly available, affordable, or popular. More important in considering the connection with Logan Fontenelle is provenance. The jacket was obtained from relatives of Fontenelle in 1914 by a friend of the family, who kept it till 1984, when it was acquired by Joslyn Art Museum.