Kuspuk – The Arctic Muumuu

When the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 the Western Arctic opened up for contact and trade. Christian missions were soon bringing salvation and modesty to the locals, who reportedly walked about dressed in either the skins of animals, or nothing at all (as this 1860 etching of the interior of an Eskimo dwelling depicts.)

The wrapper, a style of house dress made of printed cotton, usually with a flounced hemline and optional belt, were being mass produced by the 1890s. Missionaries gave Native women these unfitted frocks to cover their nakedness and they became popular throughout the South Pacific where the style was called a holoku or muumuu.
In Alaska, wrappers were worn as indoor dresses, but the brightly coloured cotton prints were also worn outdoors as covers over fur parkas. The style became a part of the traditional Alaskan Eskimo costume and slowly morphed over the years to include short versions with hoods and pockets.

Northern Exposure – Inuit dolls exhibition

Sometimes it is the small exhibitions, created by curators with a passion for their topic, that make the best museum displays, and this holds true for a charming exhibition of dolls on display this month at the Joseph Schneider Haus┬áin Kitchener. What makes the exhibition worth a visit is the surprising diversity and detailing in the styles of dress that are designed primarily to survive the harsh northern climate. The exhibition uses a clever and simple idea of a wall map to place the dolls in their location so the differences in regional dress are understood at a glance from the Eskimo people of Alaska, through Canada’s Inuit, to the Greenlanders in the east. The exhibition closes April 30.