Credit: Chris Arend
Unangan c. 1880. Sea lion gut, human hair, caribou hair, yarn Anchorage Museum Collection, 1986.031.001 Overall Dimensions (on mannequin): 142.2 x 71.1 x 48.3 cm (56 x 28 x 19 in.)
Aleut, Alutiiq and Eskimo women all used sea mammal gut to make a variety of products, including waterproof parkas and bags. Gut is very light, flexible when wet, and waterproof. Gut parkas were used as windbreakers in the frequent winds of coastal Alaska, and shaman sometimes used them during their ceremonies. This particular garment is not a parka but a copy of a Euro-American naval officers cloak, which Aleut women would have seen worn by officers and merchants aboard the naval and trading vessels that voyaged to the Aleutians. By the third decade of the 19th century Aleut women were making embroidery and bird feather decorated capes for Aleut men. The capes were sometimes worn with gut caps that were based on European designs, and were worn as prestigious garments.
This particular cape was acquired by a Maine sea captain, Obediah Merrill. Merrill deposited the cape at the Pejebscot Museum in Maine in 1889. It is known that he voyaged to the Pacific Ocean, and his collection included Hawaiian Island material as well as objects from the Northwest Coast. The cape was formerly decorated with dark bird feathers (no longer present). The fine embroidery, for which Aleut women were well known, still exists, as does the human hair that hangs down from the seams to which it has been sewn.