Vintage Tlingit Button Blanket with Beaded Design, c. 1960
Vintage Button Blanket with Beaded Design, c. 1960 Tlingit, SE Alaska Trade wool, mother of pearl buttons, glass beads 52" high x 62" wide
Provenance: Private Collection, Beverly Hills, CA
The button blanket, which came into use after contact, has now become the most popular piece of contemporary feast attire. At first, crest designs decorated with dentalium shells were sewn onto wool blankets acquired from maritime fur traders and later the Hudson's Bay Company.
By the middle of the last century, the favored blanket was made of blue duffle, with the designs appliquéd in red stroud. When pearl buttons obtained from fur traders came into use, they proliferated onto the form lines. As well, with the introduction of trade beads, the Tlingit blanket makers would use the beads to emphasize and add color to the central crest figure.
A modern potlatch can bring forward a hundred or more button blankets from the participants as gifts. At a traditional naming ceremony, it is now considered essential to present the recipient with a special blanket decorated with a family crest. A century after the button blanket was first developed, it has become a symbol of social and artistic rebirth.