Featherwork: Beyond decorative

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Riedler, Renee; Pearlstein, Ellen; Gleeson, Molly;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 57, Number S1, p.244-249 (2012)


Investigation of the light sensitivity of feathers used in Californian material culture revealed that the cultural values held by these materials was crucial for their interpretation. It was evident that feathers are valued both for their tangible and intangible attributes and that tangible qualities, including color and shape, and modification and attachment methods, often have meaning beyond their decorative and practical functions. Several different feather-working cultures, the birds that are important to these communities, how feathers from these birds are used to make featherwork, and how objects reveal changes in tradition over time are examined. Much of this information requires reference to a combination of sources, including historical and contemporary accounts, discussions with native featherworkers, ethnologists and ornithologists, and close examination of feathered objects in museum collections. This multidisciplinary approach leads to a more thorough understanding of feathered objects and aids conservators in better interpreting whether modifications are the result of access to feathers, intentional alterations of cultural use, or museum display.