Minnesota Lace Schools

In the late 1800s Bishop Henry Whipple helped develop a national program to train Indian women in the art of lace making. The program's goal was to create a cottage industry for products to sell on the East Coast. Episcopal deaconess Sybil Carter was the fulcrum for this program, and Bishop Whipple provided the impetus. Carter began developing the Episcopal Church lace manufacturing work with American Indians in Minnesota in 1890. Initially Carter provided patterns, supplies, and instruction for twelve women on Minnesota's White Earth Reservation. The program expanded across Minnesota and into Wisconsin, South Dakota, Oklahoma, New York, and in the Southwest in Arizona, Nevada and California. Carter involved local American Indians and non-Indians to manage operations.

In Minnesota in 1892 the lace-making operation expanded to additional locations with Miss Pauline Colby (Leech Lake), Mrs. Fanny C. Wiswell (Wild Rice River Mission) and Mrs. Taylor (Red Lake) as instructors. Miss Pauline Colby (b. September 4, 1853 - d. January 22, 1944), arrived earlier at White Earth in August 1891 and was trained by Sybil Carter before becoming an instructor herself, teaching until 1922. In her reminiscences, Miss Colby names three of the White Earth lace makers: Epishcanue, Owenebequa and Kah Shay. The lace makers produced a variety of lace. In an interview with Colby on November 12, 1937 she is quoted as saying that the lace made by the Ojibwas was 'needlepoint,' made of very fine thread. Needle point and English point such as, Honiton, Princess and Battenberg laces were reportedly made at the Ojibwa reservations. The Birch Coulee School, founded by Whipple's cousin Mary Whipple and his niece Susan Salisbury, was known for making pillow or bobbin lace.

Ranging from simple trims to bedspreads, the lace resembled European styles and became popular with wealthy patrons in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In 1904 Carter and friends in New York established the Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association to raise funds, run a sales shop, and market the lace. Lace was sold in a small shop at 509 Park Avenue and at sales in private homes. One of the most notable private sales was hosted by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, who opened her New York mansion in 1912 for an exhibit and charity sale of Indian Mission lace. The lace sale proceeds financed necessary materials and paid the wages of lace makers. The lace program continued well after Carter's death in 1908 and although the success of the lace association fluctuated, it survived until 1926.

References:

Pauline Colby reminiscences and related materials (1892-1932), P2085.

Typescript interview with Miss Colby on November 12, 1937 by Rev. Francis L. Palmer.

Guthrie, Jane W. "Lace-Making Among the Indians." The Outlook, 1900.

American Indian Lace Making, Kate C. Duncan, American Indian Art Magazine, Vol.5 No. 3 1980.

 

 

Minnesota Lace Schools