Monday, November 8, 2010

Keri DeWitt Painted Hunting Coat

The painted hunting coats originated in the Quebec and Ontario region of eastern Canada. The Naskapi, Montagnais and Eastern Cree made up the tribes of this region. They were nomadic people that survived mostly on hunting the caribou. While the women created all the clothing for the family, they put most of their artistic attention into creating highly decorated hunting coats. It was believed that the more handsome the jacket the more likely that the caribou would want to offer himself up to be hunted so that he too could be made into a gorgeous coat.  Over the centuries, the coats evolved becoming more and more elaborate. The jackets were all made from brain tanned, smoked caribou,  elk, or deer, sewn with sinew. They used an overhand stitch and spaced the stitches very close approximately 2 mm apart. The women artists had a limited palate of colors to paint with. They utilized earth pigments such as red and yellow ochre, madder lade or vermillion for red, Prussian or laundry blue for blue. Fish roe was used for mixing with the pigments as a binder and also for outlining the designs onto the jacket. The fish roe by itself provided a light yellow which was also sometimes used for backgrounds. The pigments were applied to the jackets with sharpened sticks, bones, or antlers for brushes. Beginning in the early 17 Century, the style of the jackets changed reflecting the influence by the French military frock coats.

There are approximately 150 of these coats remaining in existence in a handful of museums and private collections around the world. These jackets, between the early 1700's through the late 1800's represent the peak of the artistic, religious, and cultural tradition of these people groups.

This jacket, like its ancestors, is made from brain tanned, smoked deer and elk hides.  It is all hand sewn with over 7500 overhand stitches, 2 mm apart, using real elk sinew. Red and yellow ochre, madder lake and lapis pigments were mixed with egg whites (essentially the same as fish roe) as a binder and applied using only sharpened sticks and toothpicks as brushes.  I contemporized this jacket slightly by fine tailoring the cut and painting the jacket with more modern floral rather than geometric designs in the gore forms. This jacket is not an exact copy of an existing jacket, but rather is an original made in the same tradition and utilized the same historical methods  and materials as the originals. 

Copy and photos supplied by Keri DeWitt.


  1. This coat is a remarkable work of art and display of craftmenship. Wow.

  2. A simply wonderful labor of love.


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