We live in a time were we can head to the store and buy pretty much almost anything we want. However, when you seek to buy one-of-a-kind pieces of art, there is a large amount of work, effort and expertise that goes into that art.
On average a one of a kind beaded smoked moose hide mukluks takes 100 hours to make. One hundred hours??? That sound long, however the making of a mukluk is like telling a tale
The first thing that has to be done is, a hunter who is familiar with the land and where to find the moose, has to track and kill a moose. This can take anywhere from a day to a week or even longer. In the past, the hunter had no option but to keep searching until they found and killed a moose, as their family’s well being depended on it.
The moose is gutted and skinned. A prayer is said to honour the animal. It is a common belief through many indigenous peoples that the animal is a brother and has offered themselves to the hunters in order to help the hunter and his family survive. This sacrifice has to be honoured through ceremony as well as utilizing all parts of the animal. Many indigenous peoples also view the liver as a very important part of the animal and it is often offered right away to a person in the hunting group as a sign of respect.
After the hunter has returned from the kill, they then divide up the meat to the families in the community. The hide preparation then begins with the stringing up of the hide. Then laborious task of scraping the flesh and hair off the skin. This is a messy job and is often done outside. Be ready for some really ripe rotten smells and friendly flies drawn by the smell. This method of scraping hasn’t much changed since the beginning of time.
The Brain Tan:
After the skin is scraped a mixture that is made out of moose brain is spread on the hide. You then let the hide sit in the mixture for three days. You then soak it for another few days in water to let it soften. Then the hide is wrung out with the help of a few people who also pull it and stretch it. It is then put back in the water for another soak, wringing and pulling session.
Smoking the Hide:
Once it is felt to be soft enough, you then sew the hide into a cone shape with the top open. A fire is built from dead dry wood, and the hide is put over the smoke in a tepee like structure and it is left there to dry and smoke.
Once the hide is tanned and smoked, it is given to a mukluk artist and they then cut, sew and bead this hard worked hide into a beautiful piece of wearable art. Many people mistake this as a craft, however the skill to do each step, is an art form in itself. The skill to tan and smoke a hide and to sew and bead mukluks takes many years of practice and effort.
So the next time, you wonder why an artist is charging higher prices for their work, remember the work that goes into that art. Each piece’s unique beauty and value should be honoured with fair pricing. The survival of an art form stems first from the love of the artist who masters it. It also depends on the economic income it brings to the artist and their family. Getting a fair price allows them to be working artists and to focus on their skill and making the art they love.
If after all this, you still find it out of your price range, then by all means learn the skills and take up making mukluks. The more people making them, the better!