Museum Minute: A Smelly Surprise

Aug 16, 2019

Parfleche Woman's Beading Kit Chippewa Cree, Rocky Boy Indian Reservation, ca. 1890 Chandler-Pohrt Collection NA.106.203 Most containers in the museum's collections are empty. This one hid its contents for many years until Plains Indian Museum staff gently opened the envelope spring 2019. Wrapped in cloth were small beaded pieces, glass beads, sinew, beading needles, a bone awl, and a thimble.
Credit Plains Indian Museum

The curator and curatorial assistant of the Plains Indian Museum once noticed an odd odor in one of the museum’s storage areas. This isn’t something that is welcome in museum collections since it usually means something is getting ruined. 

As they were trying to find where the stench was coming from, they noticed a bulky rawhide parfleche envelope. The smell wasn't originating from it. Turns out the smell was from a parfleche that wasn't tanned correctly but they wanted to make sure there wasn't perishable content inside.

“We opened it and took each small string, un-tied them very carefully and inside there was this beautifully wrapped pouch,” recalled Hunter Old Elk, the curatorial assistant of the museum. 

The pouch looked thicker than other similar ones in the collection so Old Elk said they realized something may still be in there. This was especially concerning because it is usually protocol to go through collections when they arrive to empty the contents. 

“We saw contents inside the pouch. There was a woman’s beading and sewing kit preserved in time for about 100 years. In it were her pieces of sinew, fragments of beadwork, that she had possibly been using or working on and there were some glass beads and thimbles.”