B is for Buckskin Dress

Helbing Collection A-Z is a new feature of our blog. Each week for 26 weeks, I will highlight an item or items from our Helbing Collection of Native American Arts and Crafts.

Buckskin dress. In Cleora Helbing’s own words, “This is a white buckskin dress designed and made by Mrs. Mary Inkanish, a full-blood Cheyenne woman. The design, authentic in every way, is Plains Indian. The beading is very fine. The Indians used to barter for the sea shells, which trim the yoke of the dress, with the Western Indians. The little metal pieces that clank out at rhythm when one dances were made by Mr. Inkanish, Mrs. Inkanish’s husband. There are 6 deerskins in this dress. The fringes take a lot of buckskin. The orange dye used on the triangular bottom border is red clay mixed with vegetable dye into a paint. There are know instances where Indians buried in ceremonial dress for over 100 years have been excavated, and this orange paint on their clothes is found to be as fresh and beautiful as if it were new.”

When I took the dress off the mannequin for research, I could clearly see the shape of the deer in the buckskin at the top of the dress. The front and back of the skirt are each made from a single buckskin. I have trouble believing that the fringe took 3 full buckskins, but there is quite a bit of fringe. The beadwork and metal cones are really fine. I have included some detail photos below.

The outfit is complete with matching headband, moccasins and necklace. The mannequin stands in the center of the gallery, welcoming visitors.

Cleora Helbing wore the dress at special events.

Buckskin dress. This is a white buckskin dress designed and made by Mrs. Mary Inkanish, a full-blood Cheyenne woman. The design, authentic in every way, is Plains Indian. The beading is very fine. The Indians used to barter for the sea shells, which trim the yoke of the dress, with the Western Indians. The little metal pieces that clank out at rhythm when one dances were made by Mr. Inkanish, Mrs. Inkanish’s husband. There are 6 deerskins in this dress. The fringes take a lot of buckskin. The orange dye used on the triangular bottom border is red clay mixed with vegetable dye into a paint. There are know instances where Indians buried in ceremonial dress for over 100 years have been excavated, and this orange paint on their clothes is found to be as fresh and beautiful as if it were new. This dress is valued at between $1000 and $1500 (In 1965 – according to Cleora Helbing)
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