Parfleche

North America, before AD 1825

Parfleches are rectangular rawhide containers that fold over like envelopes. They were used to store everything from berries to household utensils and were particularly useful for moving goods around, sometimes by horse. Parfleches were used regularly by people of the Plains, Rocky Mountain and Plateau regions.

The preferred skin for making a parfleche was buffalo, before their virtual disappearance by the 1880s. After this, cattle, elk and horse hide was used. The flesh was removed from the fresh hide, then it was stretched out between pegs just off the ground and dried. The skin was then washed, scraped and thinned. The best way of removing hair was by pounding the hide with a flat axe-back or stone; this also made the exterior surface of the skin bright and white. Hair could also be scraped off with an elk-antler scraper.

The flesh side of the skin was painted and sealed with a liquid made from skin scrapings to protect the parfleche and its contents from damp. The abstract geometric paintings on this and many other parfleches are similar to those used on Great Lakes and Woodlands robes, although they seem to be without symbolic meaning. When parfleches were worn out, the rawhide would be cut up and recycled to make the soles of moccasins, the painted side on the interior.

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More information

Bibliography

J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

Dimensions

Museum number

AOA Ethno 2003.Am.19,16

ENA13486

Purchased through the Heritage Lottery Fund, with contributions from JPMorgan Chase, the National Art Collections Fund, the British Museum Friends and The L.J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation.

Location

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