American Indian Bead Belt Conservation

As Spring melds into Summer, the arrival of blue skies, scudding clouds and peaceful days spent in natural surroundings are gladly welcomed after a long winter. Perhaps the maker of this nineteenth century beaded belt was also inspired by their own natural environment as evident through their use of predominately white and blue beads.

Detail of the White and Blue Beads

This American Indian beaded belt is possibly Sioux in origin, most likely Lakota Sioux, as identified by the beading patterns. The colours of the beads evoke some of the natural colour that would have been prevalent decades ago, which allows for a contextual connection to the time and place in which it was worn. The beads themselves are stitched to a leather backing which makes up the skeleton of the belt and is fastened with a metal button. Curiously, the button is a standard US military button of a pattern first introduced in the 1850s. The “I” in the middle stands for infantry.

Detail of Button

These buttons were produced in great number and the fact that one found its way out into the western frontier around 1870 to 1880 is no surprise. On one side of the belt, at the top, there is a large dent, which seems to have been formed from the weight of a knife or revolver holster. This Plains Indian belt is a direct connection to a fascinating part of American history in which settlers pushed further and further westward. We can only ever speculate, but could it be that this belt belonged to an Indian Scout?

Detail of Belt

The belt is to be conserved so that it may safely be stored and displayed as part of a private collection. The surface of the beads will be cleaned and any loose threads will be secured to ensure that no further beads are lost. A conservation grade mount will be prepared on which to position the belt for display.

Alexandra Seth-Smith

Textile Conservator

The Textile Conservancy Co. Ltd.



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  • April Cross on Aug 03, 2013

    We just got in a beaded Native American Belt and I was wondering if you had any tips that could help me check if mine is real or just a good copy. It is beaded with designs of people, the sun, arrows, and corn. It is sewn onto some really old leather with these rows down the back of this string like material, and I just can’t tell how old it is or if it is even legitimate. Thank you so much!
    ~April Cross at Plum Pudding~

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