Shell beads from North America known as wampum are more than just a raw material transformed into beads. Polished, strung and woven, exchanged and gifted, coveted and imitated, they are a valuable witness to a chapter in the history of New France (1600-1763).
Wampum is deeply embedded in Native American societies from Northeastern North America. Originally used as an ornament or symbol of prestige, shell beads came to have a range of other functions in the 17th and 18th centuries, within the context of relations between Indigenous nations and European colonies who settled in this vast territory, spanning from the south of current Quebec to the present-day State of South Carolina.
Through the ways it was used, wampum represents a meaningful chapter of Native American, North-American and European history. It also provides a valuable point of entry to understand the societies that evolved at that time, through exchanges, alliances and confrontations between Native Americans, French and English.
For the very first time, the exhibition brings together all the wampum preserved in France, in Paris, Chartres, Besançon and Lille, among the oldest worldwide. Through some fifty pieces, the exhibition sheds a light on all aspects of wampum: a coveted raw material, made into beads and other objects like diplomatic belts, bearer of oral histories, trade resource, sign of power and prestige, and votive object. Today, wampum still plays a fundamental role among Native American nations, notably the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), the Huron-Wendat and the Abenaki.
The exhibition will be presented at the Seneca Art & Culture Center in Victor (New York State)
from March 26 until September 17, 2023
& at the McCord Museum in Montreal (Quebec) from October 20, 2023 until March 3, 2024.
From February 8 until May 15, 2022
Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac
Curator, Seneca Art & Culture Center, Ganondagan State Historic Site, Victor (New York)
Curator, Indigenous Cultures, McCord Museum, Montreal (Quebec)