Pawnee-style Bear Claw Necklace
- Sold for:
- American Indian & Ethnographic Arts - 2636B
- Date / Time :
- February 11, 2013 12:00PM
Pawnee-style Bear Claw Necklace, assembled by Milford Chandler (1889-1981), constructed with an otter skin painted red beadson the hide side, the head with a black and white beaded strip on red trade cloth, with forty large 19th century grizzly bear claws and large Italian bead spacers; includes a late otter hide drop with six beaded bear paws and two tie-on beaded strips (added by Joseph J. Rivera), claw length to 5 1/2 in., and with traces of red pigment.
Provenance: Milford Chandler; the estate of Joseph J. Rivera.
Exhibitions: Necklace was on loan to the Plains Indian Museum, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, from about 1975/80 until 2002.
Milford G. Chandler's Pawnee Style Grizzly Bear Claw Necklace
By Benson L. Lanford
Milford Glenwood Chandler (1889-1981) was one of those giant intellects who attain commendable achievements. Not only was Mr. Chandler an automotive pioneer who counted five personal automotive patents, and early-on had established an automobile carburetor company, but he also gained significant recognition for his largely self-taught ethnographical endeavors. Through the years, he spent considerable amounts of time among and developed wonderfully close, familial relationships with American Indian people. He enjoyed participating in gatherings and ceremonies principally among Great Lakes, Prairie, and Plains Indians; he learned much about the deeper meanings of their ways and traditions. Mr. Chandler actively collected American Indian art and material culture in the field, as well as from dealers and other collectors. Consequently, he furnished innumerable outstanding examples of Indian art to more than a dozen major museums, including the Southwest Museum, Detroit Institute of the Arts, Cranbrook Institute of Science, Field Museum, Denver Art Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian. As a result of Mr. Chandler's close association and interaction with various Indian groups, families of the Pawnee, Meshquaki (Fox), and Potawatomi tribes felt called to adopt and bestow formal Indian names upon him. As a predominant interest throughout much of his life, Mr. Chandler focused on the widely varying and complex aspects of grizzly bear power or "medicine"-the ceremonies, dances, representations in the arts (paintings, porcupine quillwork, and beadwork)-and above all, on the imposing and highly emblematic necklaces made of grizzly bear claws. Throughout his frequent and wide-ranging travels he consistently sought after and accumulated grizzly claws as they came available-one at a time, or several. Additionally, fortune permitted Mr. Chandler to obtain a number of magnificent original claw necklaces themselves. Being the consummate craftsman he was, and meticulously selecting only premium claws as they came to him, Mr. Chandler managed to assemble three superlative grizzly claw necklaces of differing tribal styles-each composed of the long, very much preferred, honey-colored bear claws. One necklace was of the Chippeway (Ojibwe) type, one Meshquaki (or "Fox" Tribe), and the magnificent Pawnee-style necklace offered here. It behooves to underline the great significance and respect that virtually all Indian people accorded the grizzly bear, and the exalted symbol of honor represented by a necklace comprised of its claws-as well as to one privileged to wear this badge of adulation. Undoubtedly all tribes recognized the immeasurable strength, ferocity, and magnificence exhibited by grizzly bears. Indian people viewed the grizzly as an astute and sagacious being that could impart of its favors, power, and attributes to one fortunate enough to merit them. Not just any man could don such an imposing and commanding collar of its claws. Among some tribes he must actually belong to the Bear Clan-understood to be the grizzly bear per se, rather than other species. Moreover, he must have proven himself a warrior who had engaged the enemy victoriously, as well as one who had provided for the community by protecting, advising, and assisting the people in limitless ways. One wore a grizzly bear claw necklace with reverent demeanor, very nobly, and only on state occasions. It was the Western Great Lakes, Prairie, and Plains tribes in particular who created diverse styles of necklaces comprised of grizzly bear claws. A necklace of forty claws-as is this superlative example that Mr. Chandler created in the Pawnee style-was considered as being paramount. It is essential to recognize that only the middle three of the five claws of a given bear's front paws were considered suitable for inclusion in a necklace of the genre. Likewise, the claws must not be crooked, broken nor damaged, and not striped-but uniformly yellowish in color. Dark-colored claws were deemed inferior in quality and value. Consequently, six is the maximum number of claws possible from a bear, provided that all six of the claws meet the criteria. Therefore, a minimum of seven grizzly bears were required for a necklace consisting of forty claws. To prepare the claws for assembly into a necklace, each is drilled transversely through the bone base or "knuckle," care taken to avoid the end of the keratin sheath. A heavy buckskin thong will be run through the holes to string the claws together. To provide for a secondary "bridle" string, a second hole is drilled through each claw about one third the distance from the knuckle to the tip. Once the claws are strung together through the holes in their knuckles, two thongs are then crisscrossed over this thong in a repeated "X" pattern as they are wrapped around the foundation core, between each pair of claws. This technique anchors the claws as a set-all properly spaced between each other. The "bridle" thong is strung with one or more large beads between the claws. The beads of Mr. Chandler's necklace are beautiful, rare 19th century "lampwork" beads from either Murano or Venice, Italy. Their background color is a rich medium blue hue now customarily labeled "pony trader blue," a term that Mr. Chandler himself coined. The otter is an additional creature of great significance present in grizzly bear claw necklaces of this type. Indian people view the otter in like manner to eagles, but that otter is being of the land and water. Otter is conspicuously intelligent, alert, playfully energetic, and fearless/brave. Otters diligently protect their pups. Otters are about in all seasons and kinds of weather. Moreover, otter is beautiful. Its fur is prized for covering the foundation or core to which the grizzly claws are fastened. The Pawnee style of necklace in particular employs otter fur in a dramatic manner. A strip from the center of the otter pelt-with both the head and tail intact, is folded lengthwise and tacked with thread over the core of the necklace-the core typically consisting of tightly rolled buckskin or cloth. The otter's folded head (thus seen in profile) projects beyond one end of the joined claws; the tail extends beyond from the other end. When the necklace is worn, the otter figuratively gazes over the wearer's right shoulder, and the tail cascades down the wearer's left arm, skin side up. The skin of the tail is appropriately painted red, a practice by many Indian people to designate things that are sacred or hallowed. Here, the red ochre paint represents the veneration that Indian people universally accord grizzly bear claw necklaces. In the late 1960s, shortly after returning from a cross-country trip, Mr. Chandler showed the author the antique pair of pony-beaded bear paws that he had purchased from a Pawnee acquaintance. Subsequently, he sewed the paws to the underside of the otter tail. They had been made specifically for such a purpose, and serve as artful symbols or signatures of grizzly bears themselves.
-Benson L. Lanford
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