Bandolier or Shoulder Bag

Object of the Month: 03/2005

What is it?:

Bandolier or Shoulder Bag

Age: mid to late 19th century
Made by:

Unknown Ojibwe Artist, Minnesota


97.2 cm (38.3") L x 24 cm (9.5") W

What is it made of?:

Commercial fabric (cotton, silk ribbon, wool fabric), glass beads, cotton thread, wool yarn

Accession #: A79:4:74


This Bandolier or shoulder bag is characteristic of Ojibwe people's material culture. Bags like these are primarily part of men's outfits, and were worn over one shoulder with the pouch resting on the hip. Each bandolier can take up to one year to create, but every Ojibwe male owned one to wear for proper dress occasions. This bag is smaller than most, and may have been made for a child.

This particular piece is part of The Bishop Whipple Collection, which is on long-term loan to the Science Museum of Minnesota from Shattuck-Saint Mary's School in Faribault, MN. Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple was the first Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, elected in 1859 when the state was still part of Wisconsin. The American Indians of Minnesota referred to him as "Straight Tongue" because of his truthfulness in dealing with them. The collection reflects Whipple's acquisition of "curiosities" as well as items of honor that were bestowed upon him as gifts in acknowledgment of the work he did on behalf of the tribes.

This bag was examined for possible loan and exhibition. It was found to be in fair condition with the notable exception of deteriorating silk and ongoing losses to beadwork on the strap. The bag required treatment prior to shipping and exhibition to eliminate future damage.

Losses to the loomed beadwork were caused by breaks in the warp and weft threads. Stabilization to prevent further loss was done by securing the beads and broken threads with silk thread, thus eliminating the possibility of additional loss. A sample of the thread used to secure the beads is kept in the treatment report file, so there is no question as to what thread is original to the bag and what is a later addition.

bead work beforebead work after
Photos of beadwork before (left) and after (right) treatment.

The deteriorating silk, which is both faded and "shattered," is more problematic. Shattering means the silk is self-destructing, breaking down because of an ongoing chemical reaction. This is due to its original method of manufacture. In the 19th century, silk was sold by weight, not by length. Lead acetate and other metal salts were added in the dye process to add weight and stiffness to the fabric, as well as to act as a mordant to allow the dye to set. The term for this is "weighted silk". However, this process makes the fabric more light sensitive and can cause chemical damage to the fibers. Shattered silk is the term used to describe what is happening. There is no way to stop the deterioration, due to a condition we call inherent vice*. The best way to reduce the damage to the silk is to reduce handling and movement.

The shattered silk is the pink ribbon used as a border around the bag. The ribbon at the bottom of the bag shows the most damage. The solution for stabilizing this was to create a support that could be used for shipping, display and storage. The support would remove all of the stress but also needed to be aesthetic.

shattered silksilk after stabilization
Photos of shattered silk (left) and solution for mounting and stabilizing.

The bag was carefully stitched to a padded board (acid-free foam core, padded with needlepoint acrylic felt and covered with polar fleece fabric). Even the fringe was stitched down. Embroidery floss matching the color of the silk was placed over the silk ribbon at the bottom of the bag. The support was wrapped in an envelope of tyvek and packed carefully for shipping. It was displayed at a steep slant for two months and returned to the museum with no additional damage.

*Inherent Vice-The tendency of an object to deteriorate or destroy itself without external help. (Cato, Paisley, S., Julia Golden, and Suzanne McLaren, eds. 2003. MuseumWise: Workplace Words Defined. Washington, DC: The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, p.194.