ME986.62 | Gutskin parka

Gutskin parka
Anonyme - Anonymous
Western Arctic
Inuit: Yu'pik
1910-1915, 20th century
Feathers (crested auklet), sheath (crested auklet), sinew, intestines (seal), seal fur, cotton thread
96 x 109 cm
Gift of Dr. Philip N. Cronenwett
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Parka (7)
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Keys to History

Magnificent gutskin parkas such as this one combine technical prowess with an artistry evolved from an ancient heritage. A hooded pullover parka made of sea mammal intestines was worn by Inuit men and women over other clothes for protection against sea-spray or sleet, and for ceremonial purposes. Sea mammal intestines and other membranes undergo complex processing, including several washings, peeling inside and out, and scraping with a blunt scraper. With intestines, one end is tied, the tube inflated, the other end tied and the sausage-like coils hung to dry.

To make a waterproof parka the Inuit seamstress cuts the intestines into the required lengths and sews it aligned vertically or horizontally according to function or locale. She uses a waterproof stitch that does not penetrate any part of the garment exposed to moisture. Decoration on this parka consists of twinned orange horny sheaths from the mandibles of the crested auklet, to which have been attached dark brown feathers from the auklets' crests. These are inserted between the seam folds at spaced intervals and are anchored by a narrow strip of reddish-brown hide. The two seams that join a narrow strip between the shoulder and front and go over the hood are ornamented with the woolly hair of young seal, dyed russet and couched with sinew.

  • What

    This hooded waterproof parka is made of creamy opaque gutskin. The hood is gathered and has a cord drawstring. The gut strips are horizontally aligned, forming rings around the body. The seams are made by placing two gutskin edges together, "wrong" sides facing, and folding in each edge. The four layers are joined by a running stitch of black thread.

  • Where

    This gutskin parka is remarkably similar to those produced by Yup'ik seamstresses on Sivuqaq (St. Lawrence Island, Alaska). The collector, James Crawford, was a ship's engineer who travelled extensively in the Arctic and was on ships commanded by Arctic explorer Viljhalmur Stefansson.

  • When

    We think that the parka was made in the first quarter of the 20th century, since James Crawford's travel diary, contained in two pocket notebooks, dates from October 24, 1917, to December 4, 1918.

  • Who

    A Yup'ik seamstress from Sivuqaq (St. Lawrence Island) or the southwestern Alaskan coast made this waterproof, sea-mammal gutskin coat. The entire production of one sea mammal coat can take a month.