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Hide coat

Cree misko takiy (hide coat)
ca. 1780–1820
Alberta, Canada
Moose hide, paint, porcupine quill, hair
125 x 160 cm

This spectacular painted-hide coat is among a dozen coats of its type that survive in collections. Straight-cut coats with broad bands of geometric painting date to between 1770 and 1820. Made from a single large moose hide, the coat wraps around a man’s body as it once wrapped around the animal. The wearer’s spine, accented by painted elements, is aligned with the spine of the animal. The vertical column of alternating geometric shapes—echoing the vertebrae of the spinal column—crowned with a perpendicular band, identifies the coat as Northern Cree.

By 1743 fur traders on the shores of Hudson Bay had adopted the coat, which they called a “tockey” or “toggey,” from the Cree muska togy or misko takiy. This was a winter garment, once trimmed with fur. The elaborate decoration at the shoulder is assembled from pieces of loom-woven quillwork and fine leather fringe wrapped with quill, accented by tufts of dyed red deer hair. Lines and circles were pressed or carved into the surface of the hide and the resulting forms filled with either indigenous paint or a clear substance that, over time, contrasted with the natural hide. While each artist drew from a common repertoire of motifs, no two coats are alike.

Cree women made these coats for both European and Cree men. The coats provide us with a window into a dynamic space where different systems of knowing the world came together. They also preserve a record of our earliest aesthetic practices.

—Sherry Farrrell Racette (Timiskaming First Nation), associate professor of art history, Concordia University

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