Staying Warm in the Far North

While Chicago is experiencing the polar vortex, we thought we’d take a look at some cold weather gear from the collections! 

a114905d_027.jpg

A brown and white coat made from animal skin and fur
Murre, wolf, and beaver pullover parka. © The Field Museum, A114905d_027, Photographer John Weinstein

The Inuit people survive the harsh cold of the far north in many resourceful ways, including using toboggans and sealskin kayaks for transportation. They also fashion these extremely warm parkas that are both practical and beautiful. 

This murre (a type of seabird), wolf, and beaver skin coat was created by an unknown Inuit artist in Alaska. The versatile and protective bird skin parka was reversible: if it was raining, the feathers went outside or under a gut parka; if it was cold, they faced inward. Diving seabirds were preferred, due to their tougher skins. This parka was purchased during the 1927 Borden-Field Museum expedition to Alaska and the arctic. James Borden, the host, was a Museum Trustee at the time. 

Russian and American traders discouraged the Inuit from using furs and skins—to protect the fur trade.

a114907d_002_small.jpg

A brown fur and animal skin coat, decorated with beads and red yarn
A woman's parka made of ground squirrel skin, beads, yarn, caribou skin, wolverine ruff, and calfskin. © The Field Museum, A114907d_002, Photographer John Weinstein

Among the coastal peoples of the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean, such garments were the mark of a husband who was a good hunter and a wife who excelled as a seamstress. Each element of these fancy winter parkas had a specific name that referred to the stories, spirits, or history of the village or the wearer. 

See more Inuit and Arctic objects on display at the Museum. The Alsdorf Hall of Northwest Coast and Arctic Peoples showcases the artistic talents of native people in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, as well as the far north.