Saturday, September 7, 2013

Plimoth Plantation and Wampum Belts

This past weekend my family and I took our final camping trip of the season. We camped in Plymouth, Massachusetts so we could explore Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum. There are a few different sections to the place:
A view from the fort at the top of the hill.
One section of Plimoth Plantation has a recreation of the first settlement of the pilgrims with people dressed up and acting like pilgrims. It's pretty neat and the children enjoyed watching woman working in the kitchen and got a tour of a surgeon's garden where he pointed out all sorts of plants and their medicinal properties. My husband and I thought there could have been more work happening. We wanted to see people baking bread and making clapboards for siding, mending fences, etc. But my children liked chasing the chickens and looking at the goats and talking with the people.

Another area of the museum is a craftsman's area. This was not part of the reenactment area. Here there are modern craftspeople working creating all of the neat things the pilgrims are using in the settlement: pottery, leather cups and jugs, and wooden chairs and chests. There were two craftsmen there that day, one was making leathercrafts and was very talkative, knowlegable and helpful. The second, the potter, was there but wasn't working at that time. There was also an area for a person who might have been doing Native beadwork, but that person wasn't there. So, while that area could have been interesting, it wasn't as active as it could have been.

Another section of the museum was the Wampanoag settlement. This area was a reenactment of a Native settlement from the time of the pilgrims and, while there were real people dressed as Native Americans doing things here, they do not act like they are from the 1600's--they are themselves as Native representatives. I have to say, they were super-talkative and super-knowlegable and I loved this area most of all. We saw a lady making dinner for her children (her children were actually there running around and playing with other worker's chidren). She was roasting corn over the fire and making a stew that all of the children were going to eat when it was done. She had a baby on her hip and, as he started to get fussy, she laid a fur on the ground and he took a nap.

There was another lady making woven mats for the homes on site. Beside her were a number of toys that Native children may have played with: a canoe, a couple of dolls, and a game made of bones that is like the "ball and cock" game that we played as kids.

Here are the mats inside the longhouse. This is the winter house.

There was also a man creating a canoe by burning the wood center out of a log. We got some serious time looking at that! My boys were fascinated!

And finally, there was a lady in the longhouse talking about pretty much anything you'd like to know: what Natives would eat, who lived in the long houses, what they wore, how they repelled bugs, how they prepared their food...the list went on and on. We sat in that longhouse for while just listening to her talk about all sorts of stuff. This area of the museum felt real and comfortable to me. I think I could have spent all day there. My oldest (a 6th grader) whispered to me:  "When I grow up, I want to be a Native American and work here."

Now, the Wampanoag people are from the Massachusetts area and I've mentioned them before on my blog. One of the artforms they are known for are their Wampum beads that are made into Wampum belts and other items. See my post about a cool art/math/social studies project you can do on this theme here.

While I was in the gift shop at Plimoth Plantation, I noticed all sorts of jewelry made from Wampum--the shell of the quahog clam. But alas, real wampum is too expensive for this art teacher (even as a tax write-off...What? It's for a lesson!). But I was able to get a real quahog shell for $2--and that price is just right!
The humble quahog shell...

Enjoy this repost of the Wampum Belt project!

Wampum Designs

Wampum are beads made from the quahog shell and strung on string in intricate patterns of purple and white (although some sources say that red and black beads were used sometimes too). Quahog's are endangered today and, I guess, artisans can only get one or two truly purple beads per shell, so one wampum bead costs around $5--way too pricey to use for large belt designs. The beadwork we did today had 72 beads per child so each child would have used $360 worth of beads for their project. The children loved hearing that!

We used plain old pony beads I bought from Michael's for our designs. I had been looking for a way for students to easily realize their own bead designs without sewing or doing crazy things with string (my students are in 2nd-4th grade) and I finally found a solution on the blog Mrs. Erb's Art Page. Mrs. Erb uses pipe cleaners (chenille stems) to hold the beads in each row. Perfect! I had the children fit them onto matte board that had been donated to me. This allowed a nice way to display their original designs along with the finished wampums. They came out great and didn't take long at all.

Beaded Wampum

Supplies Needed:
  • Worksheet for practicing designs
  • Crayons in purple (and red and black if you want to use those)
  • Six chenille stems-white
  • Purple and white pony beads (ours were more royal blue)
  • Matte board (ours were red and about 8" square)
  • Clear tape (I used packing tape because it's stickier than regular tape)
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick

1. I passed out the worksheets and instructed the children to create a couple different designs using geometrics shapes and using pattern. My worksheet had two 6x12 grids so the children could try out a couple of designs before beginning to bead. We looked at real wampum for inspiration. Word of advice: only put out the crayon colors that correspond to the colors of beads you will be using. If you are only using purple beads, only put out purple crayons for them to diagram with. Trust me.

2. Once they had a couple of designs down on paper, they could bring them to me and we'd discuss which one they wanted to do. 

3. Our designs were 6 rows of beads, each with 12 beads per row. My directions will reflect that. I had them start off with the first pipe cleaner (which represents the first row) and follow their diagram to place 12 beads on it. After that, they worked down the rows, using their diagram as a guide. I cautioned them to keep their rows in order so they didn't get mixed up. If you are doing this with a group you could have them label the chenille stems with a piece of tape or prepare the matte board (as in step 4, below) and have them transfer each row, as it is finished, to the matte board.

4. Once all of the rows were completed, I had them affix them to matte board, again using their diagram as a guide. The way I did it was to cut 1/4" slits on the right and left side of a piece of matte board. Since we have 6 rows, I cut 6 slits in each side of the board (one for each row). The children then slipped the chenille stem in the slits (pulling tight) and we wrapped the ends around the back and secured them with the packing tape to the back side of the matte board. I thought this looked tidy, although there was space enough for the children to do a much larger design (maybe they could repeat their design twice next time...).

5. I then had the children cut out the diagram they had used to create their wampum and affix it above the beadwork on the matte board using glue stick.

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