Marilyn Spoon, Bandolier Bag

Marilyn Spoon (Sac and Fox Nation), Bandolier Bag, 2020, broadcloth, silk ribbon, glass beads, bells, and cotton (First Americans Museum). A conversation between Dr. heather ahtone (Choctaw/Chickasaw Nation) and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:04] We are at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, and we’re standing in front of Marilyn Spoon’s “Bandolier Bag,” the first beaded bandolier bag from the Sac and Fox Tribe in more than 20 years.

Dr. Heather Ahtone: [0:19] We worked with each of the 39 tribes located in Oklahoma to consult on how they were represented in the galleries through both story, the accuracy of our details, and the tone of our storytelling. We knew that we had a gap in representation of some of the bags which are so commonly used by many of the communities from the Ohio River Valley, Michigan, over into Illinois and the Anishinaabe communities, and down into the Plains.

[0:45] When we visited with the Sac and Fox community leaders and cultural leaders, asking how they could be represented, we were guided to Marilyn Spoon, who’s a citizen of the Sac and Fox Tribe. She’s also, like many of us, Absentee Shawnee, Miami, and Menominee. Because of so many tribes in Oklahoma, there’s a lot of intertribal marriage.

[1:03] We asked her because she and her mother actually were very well-respected textile artists. Our intention for the commission was to have a bandolier bag. The current materials that have been made in the last 20 years have primarily been textiles with appliqué work on the front.

[1:21] Marilyn had in mind that she wanted to bead it. Doing appliqué work is incredibly careful, detailed, physically arduous, and then you multiply that by 10 times and that’s how much it takes to do beadwork. She brought this bag to us.

[1:37] We were all blown away by how incredibly beautiful the bag is and how meaningful it was to her as an artist, to her as a Sac and Fox person representing her culture, her tribe, and taking the personal responsibility to know that what she did as a singular object representing the Sac and Fox tribe, how important that was going to be to her community, and to teach about Sac and Fox culture to our museum guests.

Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:04] Let’s talk about what a bandolier bag is.

Dr. Ahtone: [2:08] Bandolier bags are bags that have been worn and made historically of deer hide with a large pouch, with a strap that goes across the body. These are worn by both men and women. Sometimes the uses of them are gendered, but they’ve served as a wearable pocket in the same way that we put pockets in our pants or a woman might wear a purse.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:28] We know that Marilyn Spoon created this to hold a feast bowl, and it’s clear by the size of this bag that she has a large family. [laughs]

Dr. Ahtone: [2:36] In general, those bowls are large enough that everybody in the family that’s eating from it can get enough sustenance using the same bowl.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:43] Let’s spend a moment talking more about what the designs on the bag and the colors mean for her.

Dr. Ahtone: [2:50] There are six clans in the Sac and Fox tribal community. Each clan has its own specific color that is the signifier socially within their community to identify what clan somebody might belong to. Marilyn used a black broadcloth background and then trimmed it with green cotton to finish the edges.

[3:10] The design she’s using is a family pattern, but all six of the Sac and Fox clans are represented through the color orientation.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [3:20] This is not easy work. If you look at the way that she has outlined each of these forms on the lower part of the bag, we see this light-yellow contour line that picks out the forms. Just below, she has taken the red beads and followed the contour line, giving us this dynamic quality to the beadwork itself.

Dr. Ahtone: [3:41] This is a design that is intentionally crafted in order to have quadrilateral symmetry, and so you can literally take this and fold it into quarters and you get the core of the design that she used.

[3:52] What Marilyn did to make this is she started beading the interior and then built out the layers to make sure that she got that form completely executed. Doing this beadwork is so arduous that it had fallen dormant within their community. It’s much faster to produce with appliqué work, which is also still quite difficult.

[4:11] What Marilyn’s done is taken a floral reference, and she’s replicated it [so] that it creates the harmony of the singular design, being quadrilaterally balanced, but if you look at the full face of the pocket, it becomes eight times over. Because these designs are coming together, at the center of the pocket you have a circle.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [4:32] There are other materials here that draw my eye to various parts of this bag. The black broadcloth contrasts with the green cotton that forms the border of the bag and the strap, and then the yellow zig-zag that outlines the forms on the bottom of the bag is picked up in the thick cotton yarn that forms tassels on the bottom fringe and the shiny quality of the golden beads echoed in the shininess of the glass beads themselves.

Dr. Ahtone: [5:01] That repeated zig-zag around the outside and the repetition of that white ball goes up the sides of the pocket but also go up the sides of the strap. There’s just a brilliant sense of organization, balance, symmetry, harmony here.

[5:17] One of the things that Marilyn shows us through this bag is how we have, as Indigenous people, carried our cultures across time, and through those designs, aesthetics, and techniques, we’ve also held on to our philosophies and some of the core elements of our cultures that are so critically important for us to be culturally distinct people in the 21st century.

[5:38] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. heather ahtone and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank, "Marilyn Spoon, Bandolier Bag," in Smarthistory, September 22, 2022, accessed June 12, 2024,