Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Length: 35.000 cm
Width: 14.000 cm
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Fish skin gauntlets
Inuit, before AD
From south-west Alaska, Arctic North America
Fish skin – a durable and waterproof material - was widely used in south-west Alaska for making bags and clothing. Among the Yup'ik of the Yukon-Kuskokwim area, it was used to make a wide range of garments, including boots, mitts, raincoats and hats. Different species were used for different purposes – depending on the skin's thickness, strength, and aesthetic qualities, as well as on cultural traditions. Raincoats, for instance, would be made from the skin of salmon or other large fish. Boots might be made from the skin of king salmon, with the spotted skin of river trout for decoration.
These waterproof gauntlets are probably from south-west Alaska. They were collected by the 5th Earl of Lonsdale, also known as the Yellow Earl, when he travelled across the North American Arctic in 1888-89. The gauntlets are made of salmon skin, and sewn with grass. They may have been dyed with natural dyes of alder bark, moss and lichen, as was common practice. Moss lichen gives a yellowish colour, rock lichen becomes green or blue, and alder bark results in a reddish-brown colour.
J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)
B.K. Issenman, Sinew of survival: the living (Vancouver, UBC Press, 1997)
J.E. Oakes and R. Riewe, Our boots: an Inuit womans art (New York, Thames and Hudson, 1996)