Interpretation by Bob Morrissey
Containing motifs found on several other examples of hide art and body art from the 18th century, this minohsaya is not a singular and isolated design, but a rich expression of connection. French eyewitnesses exaggerated when they named hide art like this using the same words and concepts (especially “mataché”) that they applied to tattoo and body art traditions. But the fact that they saw this equivalence, together with the strong resonances between hide art motifs and those found on tattooed bodies in the 18th century, make it clear that these traditions—and their purposes—were not unrelated. Like tattooing, hide art like this minohsaya was used in ceremony, especially to mark incorporation and personal transformation—diplomacy, adoption, coming-of-age, death, marriage. Although only speculation, it seems reasonable to consider similarities between motifs in this robe’s designs and those in extant tattoo art and other hide art from the period to be quite specific “references,” marking and symbolizing these moments of transformation as simultaneous moments of connection inside a specific social world. In the 1780s, the English traveler and botanist William Bartram analogized the complex designs made by Illinois hide artists to “hieroglyphics.” While this is an imperfect comparison, it is certain that the designs of this robe contain a rich aesthetic language full of specific references and symbolism, connecting this artwork and its user/maker to many others.