The nineteenth century souvenir arts of the Wendat (Huron) women of Wendake, Quebec, works of virtuosity in technique and design, were sought after as collectibles by European visitors and Euro-Canadians, and today appear in substantial numbers in European, Canadian, and American museum collections. Although souvenir wares have been the object of study in the fields of anthropology and art history, an in-depth systematic analysis of the tradition, situated within a history of Wendat visual arts, had yet to be written. This study addresses two problems: First, the lack of a corpus of material to place nineteenth-century souvenir arts in the context of art from earlier periods created for ceremonial and community use and drawn both from archaeological and ethnological collections. Second, it addresses the need to explore the relationship among modes of production and to carry out a close reading of the imagery and women’s egalitarian status in Wendat society from pre- and early-contact periods through the nineteenth century. 1 argue that souvenir arts, produced during a period of intense change and challenges to Wendat identity and economic self-sufficiency caused by increasing settler populations and colonial pressures of assimilation, offer a site for the exploration of Wendat women’s economic and social roles in their community. I base these arguments in archival and historical research and in consultation with Wendat community members, who have provided important insight into symbolic content of the souvenir works and their significance for the Wendat as well as for European buyers. The development of souvenir arts was intertwined with the diplomatic and political agenda of Wendat community leaders, reflecting Wendat women’s agency in creating commercial works that inspired the admiration of European collectors, and could serve as ceremonial gifts that contributed to harmonious relations with settler communities.
The research database of over 220 examples of Wendat and Eastern Great Lakes objects, on which my arguments are based, is the foundation for Appendix B and the illustrations referred to in the text. In keeping with the collaborative research methods of the thesis, I will present a copy of the thesis to Wendat Grand Chief Conrad Sioui, together with a DVD of the database.