Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Native American Artistry in Textiles

In the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology, are skillfully crafted items that demonstrate the artistry of the Native American cultures who created them. This week in acknowledgement of Native American Heritage Month we will share the preservation efforts undertaken to restore and preserve one of these beautiful pieces. Also highlighted from the collection is a beaded belt and purse.

Figure 1 Delaware blouse before treatment, from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

This woman’s shirt, described in 1929 as “very old,” was acquired by ethnohistorian Frank G. Speck while visiting the Delaware Tribe who reside in Oklahoma. The blouse was in fair condition, but preservation would restore color to the garment and insure its stabilization for future display. The blouse is fabricated from red-dyed cotton, has ruffled sleeve cuffs, and a collar ornamented with German silver brooches and domed buttons. The conservator noted the following observations when examining the blouse prior to treatment.

The buttons are attached to the shirt with white cotton thread, and there were no holes in the garment. The shirt, however, was extremely creased and wrinkled from years of flat storage. Several areas of the red-dyed fabric were faded due to exposure to natural light. Importantly, green corrosion products were evident on most of the German silver ornaments which adorned the collar. German Silver is also known as nickel silver and is a silver-white allow of copper, zinc and nickel which contains no silver. Corrosion products present on the metallic discs can weaken cotton fibers which hold the buttons in position and may permanently stain surrounding fabric.

The conservation measures taken to preserve this blouse included a microscopic examination of the fibers and stitching methods employed in its construction, a tool useful for establishing the period of use of the garment. This analysis determined that the body is a single piece of fabric with a neck opening cut in the center. The ends of the fabric were hand stitched. Sleeves and ruffles were applied by both hand stitching and lockstitch machine sewing. These traits enabled the conservator to determine that the shirt was likely made in the early 20th century.

Figure 2 Blouse after treatment

To restore the color of the shirt, the creases were released within a humidification tank and the metallic discs were cleaned and preserved with a microcrystalline wax. The body of the shirt was covered with “Stabiltex,” a red material attached by hand with red silk single ply thread. The conservation treatment was funded by the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation and will go far to ensure the long-term preservation of this beautiful blouse.

Figure 3 closeup detail of the German silver disc adorning the collar of the Delaware blouse (Tàkhwèmpës). From the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

This style of blouse is a traditional woman’s garment often worn for dance ceremonies. It was worn with a skirt adorned with ribbons in various patterns, leggings, and moccasins. A dance shawl, brooch, hair combs, headpieces and fans were also worn with these garments. There are many traditional dances of the Delaware culture. Some dances are named after foods, such as the Corn or Bean Dance; animals, such as the Raccoon and Duck Dance; and some are named for Native American tribes, such as the Cherokee Dance. Children learn these dances from their elders and feature at celebrations such as the Annual Delaware Pow Wow, held by the Delaware Tribe of Indians who held their 57th Pow Wow in May of this year.

Many associate beadwork with Native American cultures but often don’t realize that the designs created are symbolic to the creator and their tribe. The earliest beadwork was created before European contact featuring designs made from shell, bone, porcupine quills, seeds, and leather. Unfortunately, many of these elements did not survive burial in the acidic soils of the Eastern Woodlands, the homelands of the Delaware, Seneca, Cayuga, and many other groups. The tradition of beadwork has survived, however, and is skillfully executed by Native American artists across the country, many who have multi-generational heritage as beadworkers.

A visit from Lucy Parks Blalock of the Delaware Tribe of Indians, now located in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to the State Museum was an opportunity for us to meet the creator of a beaded belt in the museum’s collection. Mrs. Blalock made the belt in the late 1920s when ethnohistorian Frank Speck visited the Delaware peoples living in Oklahoma. Mr. Speck was collecting pieces for the Pennsylvania Historical Commission at the time. Mrs. Blalock did not know that her belt was in the museum’s collection and was surprised when she was reunited with her beadwork. Mrs. Blalock spoke the Delaware language and was an important resource for linguist Jim Rementer, who has compiled the Lenape Dictionary and recorded songs and stories, helping to preserve these for future generations.

Figure 4 Lucy Parks Blalock with her beaded belt, photo from the Collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Figure 5 beaded purse from the Collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

This beaded purse was also collected by Frank Speck and illustrates a combination of beading and silk ribbon trim in a colorful design. Denise Neil-Binion’s discussion of Delaware beadwork attributes floral motifs as a common design element of the 19th century. The red ribbon work on this piece has faded, but the striking design and vibrant colors of the beadwork remain as an example of skilled craftsmanship.

We hope you have enjoyed this blog and will continue to visit us as we highlight the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology. View additional pieces from our collections.

Resources (PDF)

J.A.M.,. "Frank Gouldsmith Speck." Museum Bulletin XV, no. 1 (July, 1950): 3-5. Accessed November 22, 2022.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Friday, November 11, 2022

A Summary of the Eastern States Rock Art Research Association’s 2022 Conference

The Eastern States Rock Art Research Association (ESRARA) held its 2022 conference on Oct. 7-8, 2022, in St. Louis, Missouri. The conference brought together presenters and attendees from nine states to discuss the documentation, preservation, and interpretation of rock art sites which included petroglyph (images carved on stone) and pictograph (images painted or drawn on stone) sites in the Eastern United States. Pennsylvania was well represented with three presentations focusing on rock art sites from the Keystone State, which now has over forty petroglyph sites recorded in its cultural resource site files.

The logo for the Eastern States Rock Art Research Association (ESRARA).

A theme throughout the conference was that rock art sites often go unnoticed unless someone is looking for them. One of the presentations focused on Pennsylvania included images and discussion about seemingly forgotten sites and another previously undocumented petroglyph site in the Lower Susquehanna Valley. Located atop a small rock island in the river is carved the figure of a birdman that was previously unknown to researchers.

A figure with both human and bird-like attributes is carved on the highest section of a small rocky island in the Lower Susquehanna River. (Photo: Melanie Mayhew)

As digital technologies advance so do methods for documenting petroglyph sites. Several presentations at the conference demonstrated the use of 3D modeling using photogrammetry and LiDAR. Photogrammetry software uses images to construct a 3-dimensional model while LiDAR uses specialized equipment to collect data with a laser. A benefit of photogrammetry is that no specialized equipment is needed to collect the data, just a digital camera. Photos are then imported into photogrammetry software and a 3D model created. Unlike archaeological excavation, which is a destructive process, the study of rock art primarily uses non-destructive methods of documentation, and it promotes the preservation of sites where they were created hundreds or even thousands of years ago. 

This birds-eye view of a well-known petroglyph site in the Lower Susquehanna Valley was created by linking many images into a 3D model using photogrammetry. While this view is useful for mapping a site, it is not an angle from which the site can be easily viewed in real life. (Image: Melanie Mayhew)

Presenters also discussed new methods of illustrating sites using digital technologies. Referencing the same site as the 3D model above, the image below was created by digitally tracing a high-resolution photograph of the site using a Wacom drawing tablet and Adobe Photoshop. Drawing a site in this format provides a comprehensive method of visualizing subtle detail that has been excluded from previous attempts to map petroglyph/pictograph sites. It also gives the viewer a realistic view of the site at a specific time of day and year. Methods of mapping sites using such media as chalk or other substances are not recommended by conservators.

An original photograph taken during sunrise around the equinox (left) and the illustration created by digitally tracing the photo (right). (Images: Melanie Mayhew)

Pictographs (images drawn or painted on stone) are most often associated with western states, but one was recently rediscovered and documented in Pennsylvania. The Chickaree Hill Pictograph is a relatively small circular image drawn on the ceiling of a rock overhang in western Pennsylvania. Its red color comes from the iron-rich material, likely hematite, that was used to create the image. DStretch, a digital tool available as an app, can aid in making faded or faint pictographs more visible. This tool has helped to increase the number of visible images on previously documented pictograph sites. 

A photograph of the Chickaree Hill Pictograph from Pennsylvania’s Archaeological Site Survey (PASS) form. The circular decorated area is only a few inches across. (image: PA-SHARE)

Among other presentations, the conference included a day-long field trip to Cahokia Mounds, an UNESCO world heritage site, and two nearby petroglyph sites. One of these sites, Washington State Park, provided caution against well-meaning infrastructure improvements that can damage a site over the long term, as seen below.

The above images of Washington State Park petroglyphs show the southern (left) and northern (right) panels at the site. The northern panel remains continuously shaded by a boardwalk and overhead shelter, providing favorable conditions for organic growth which will, over time, damage the site.

For more information, visit the Eastern States Rock Art Research Association (ESRARA). For more information on Pennsylvania Petroglyphs, view our petroglyph brochure (PDF).

Links and Resources:

American Rock Art Research Association (ARARA)

ARARA is an active community dedicated to rock art preservation, research, and education. Several educational resources can be found on their website, including lesson plans for grades K-9. ARARA hosts frequent web presentations and holds an annual conference. Past web presentations can be found on their YouTube channel.

Eastern States Rock Art Research Association (ESRARA)

ESRARA is a group of dedicated professional and avocational members who focus their attention on rock art located in the Eastern United States.

Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA)

A community of professional and avocational archaeologists dedicated to the scientific study and conservation of archaeological resources in Pennsylvania and surrounding states. Their 92nd annual conference will be held in Dubois, Pennsylvania on April 14-16, 2023.

Burkett, Ken

2021 The Chickaree Hill Pictograph (36CB28). Pennsylvania Archaeologist. Vol 91(2)

Cadzow, Donald

1932 Petroglyphs [Rock Carvings] in the Susquehanna River near Safe Harbor, Pennsylvania, Safe Harbor Report No. 1. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg.

Swauger, James

1974 Rock Art of the Upper Ohio Valley. Akademische Druck, Austria.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .