Dressed as Visions

Long before European ships sailed into James Bay and Hudson Bay, Cree women took great pride in how they prepared materials and sewed their family's clothing and accessories. Designs, which came to the women in dreams, were executed as skilfully as possible. Survival depended upon it. For it was felt that animals were more willing to give themselves to hunters who were beautifully attired.

When the beautiful designs and workmanship caught the eye of the newcomers from Europe, Cree women began making things either to give as gifts or to sell. Collecting “exotic” objects had become a popular pastime for Europeans as they became increasingly aware – and curious – about people and landscapes around the world.

Some of the objects made by Crees found their way into museums and private collections in Great Britain and Europe; some are in Canadian and American institutions. Most were collected between 1800 and 1950.

After beads, embroidery thread and ribbon became available to Crees, certain kinds of objects – leggings, hoods and bags – underwent a major transformation in style and material: Hide clothing decorated with painted designs and quill work was gradually replaced by garments that were embroidered and beaded with floral designs.

Intended as a research tool, it is hoped the images on this website will serve as a source of inspiration and stimulate discussion. The images and accompanying information were derived from a CD-Rom entitled Our Grandmothers' Voices prepared by the late Cath Oberholtzer.

The images of objects displayed here were selected on the basis of the objects having originated in the eastern James Bay region, or as being typical of a James Bay Cree style. There is sufficient documentation to ascribe about half the objects to specific Cree communities. But almost as many are described more vaguely as being from James Bay. Goods shipped to England from James Bay were routed through the main port at Moose Factory and, unfortunately, were not always identified by the actual place of origin. A few items in Dressed as Visions have been attributed to James Bay because, according to extensive research, they bear a close resemblance to things that are definitely from that region.