Commentary on Bandolier Bag Maker Sophia Smith

Bandolier bag maker Mel Losh is an enrolled member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe , Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.  He finished his eleventh bandolier bag in April of 2011.

"I think these three bags associated with Sophia Smith are simply stunning, unbelievably beautiful, examples of beadwork.  I remember seeing the photo of Sophia long ago when I was first interested in making a bandolier bag.  The beauty of her bag inspired me to begin the monumental project of making a bandolier bag. 

I believe that Sophia must have made a great deal of beadwork in her life prior to making her bandolier bags due to the quality of her work. I made beaded belts, dance cuffs, moccasins, etc., for a long time to develop my skills before I made my first bandolier bag.  I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to see the actual bead colors of Sophia's bag and I'm impressed with her motifs and the combinations she achieved as well as the balance in her designs.  I respect Sophia's tight, even, straight placement of beads and motifs. 

I think Sophia could have seen bandolier bags worn in street parades at Cass Lake and then been inspired to make one.  I have never seen a bandolier bag worn at a pow wow.

I remember that Maude Kegg once told me her family thought the bottom panel of a bandolier bag should always have 4 leaves.  My bags don't always have the same number of leaves or flowers and Sophia's bags didn't either.  She had her own style that was balanced without being formulaic. 

The condition of these 110 year old bags impresses me as well and I'd suggest that she might have been using Mercerized cotton thread, size #8.

I like to make bandolier bags because they are so different from other bag forms, usually only men of rank in their community wore them and some had two or more bags.  When I was young I heard that Ojibwa women went to North & South Dakota to trade one or two of their bandolier bags for a horse for their husbands."

Interview with Marcia G. Anderson, April 22, 2011.

Commentary on Bandolier Bag Maker Sophia Smith