Plateau Pictorial Beadwork: The Fred L. Mitchell Collection
February 12-May 14, 2023
Glass beads were first traded into the interior Pacific Northwest during the late 18th century, after coastal peoples acquired them from seagoing fur traders. In their 1805 exploration of the region, Lewis and Clark observed that some garments were adorned with these beads, along with shells, shell beads, pieces of bone, cut brass, and other items.
For the half-century that followed, the majority of glass beads that were available to the residents of the Columbia River Plateau came from the Hudson’s Bay Company and were primarily blue and white beads with limited amounts of other colors.
The arrival of increasing quantities and colors of seed beads encouraged the creation of a regional style of decoration that adorned clothing, personal accessories, and horse gear. The earliest examples of Plateau pictorial beadwork show floral designs and horse imagery. Other early subjects included deer, elk, and birds. These motifs were generally simply arranged on a light-colored—often white or blue—background. Later beadwork subjects included diverse wildlife species, Indigenous people and their daily lives, and rodeo and patriotic themes.
During a lifetime collecting Plateau floral, geometric, and pictorial beadwork, Walla Walla resident Fred L. Mitchell has amassed the premier collection of this material. His collection has become noteworthy, due not just to its size, but also because of its quality and diverse subject matter. The MAC is proud to present this survey of Plateau beadwork, which will include stunning beaded bags, cuffs, gauntlets, vests, cradleboards, and horse regalia.