Prisoners create one-of-a-kind button blanket for Burke Museum

September 13, 2018
Burke Museum
A green and white button blanket featuring the Burke logo and an eagle breaking free of chains

The button blanket created by members of the Native American Cultural Group at the Washington State Reformatory Unit in Monroe.
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum

Members of the Native American Cultural Group at the Washington State Reformatory Unit in Monroe, Washington, recently presented the Burke with a button blanket after Dr. Holly Barker, curator for Oceanic and Asian culture, partnered with the University Beyond Bars program to bring Oceania collections to the prison as part of a multi-week course led by students.

Created by the First Peoples of the Northwest Coast, button blankets are garments that serve as statements of identity in Native cultures and are often worn during times of celebration and ceremony.

felt and abalone shells, the button blanket depicts an eagle emerging out of the Burke’s logo, breaking out of its chains, with one wing representing a flame

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum

felt and abalone shells, the button blanket depicts an eagle emerging out of the Burke’s logo, breaking out of its chains, with one wing representing a flame

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum

felt and abalone shells, the button blanket depicts an eagle emerging out of the Burke’s logo, breaking out of its chains, with one wing representing a flame

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum

Bridget Johnson, assistant director of the Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Native Art, and Andrea Godinez, Burke Museum public relations manager, attended the prison’s annual powwow on July 28, 2018, where the students presented the blanket as a gift to the Burke. The powwow was a celebration with family and friends, along with the sharing of dances, songs, food and gifts the students worked on throughout the year.

Made of felt and abalone shells, the button blanket depicts an eagle emerging out of the Burke’s logo, breaking out of its chains, with one wing representing a flame. This is a powerful statement of gratitude from the makers of the blanket.

"The men put a lot of thoughtful care into the creation of this beautiful blanket, we loved hearing about how they collaborated on the design and worked together to finish it,” said Bridget. “We were just so honored to be invited to participate and share in the celebration."

The blanket will soon become part of the Burke’s permanent Ethnology collection.

A woman wears the button blanket over her shoulders

Dr. Holly Barker, curator for Oceanic and Asian culture, wears the button blanket created after she partnered with the University Beyond Bars program.
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum

The Burke is collaborating with the WSRU, University Beyond Bars and the Native American Cultural Group on a Native American Heritage class in the prison this fall. We plan on bringing the blanket back to the class to learn more about how the blanket was made and share updates on the Burke Blog. 

We are honored to receive this generous gift and to continue collaborating with the students!

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