W is for Wawxpa

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

Flat-twined bag

Flat twined bags called “Wawxpa” or “Sally bags” are made by twining fine, tightly spun Indian Hemp around a cord base. The bag is decorated with a “false embroidery” technique using wool yarn that is added as the bag is woven. These bags are often called “corn husk bags” because in the past, dyed corn husks were used to in the false embroidery. Similar bags have been found in archeological digs. They were originally used by the nomadic Plateau Indians to hold roots and household goods. They were also an important part of a traditional wedding exchange. They bride’s family gave gifts of food to packaged in these bags to the family of the groom.

Reverse of the same basket

Cleora had a special story about this one: “This brightly decorated Indian “bag” with leather handles was made by wrapping corn husks, cut very fine and pulled very tightly, around a cord. Items made in this way are now almost extinct and very hard to come by. The bag is embroidered with many colors of yarn: On the front are triangular designs in each of the four corners, done in red, black and purple. A deer is embroidered in the center and trees surround it. On the back four trees are embroidered in red, purple, green, pink, and black. This was given to me by Susie Papalow, an old Warm Springs, Oregon Indian who traveled around the world with Buffalo Bill. That’s why the purse is so worn–she carried it with her and used it as her purse all those years. I have had it since about 1932.”

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