The South Florida Museum in Bradenton recently showcased more than 100 years of Seminole Indian arts and crafts, the key feature being more than 75 artifacts of their original, colorful patchwork clothing. This type of sewing defines the tribe, making them easily recognizable by the public.

How these Indians living in the Everglades of Florida kept their culture alive is a wonder, as they have been forced over the years to move farther into the swamps of the Everglades as Europeans arrived. The Seminole and the nearby Miccosukee Indian built their own villages and fought wars to keep their way of life.

Contact was made in modern times with these very private Indian tribes when the Tamiami Trail was built across southern Florida.

Tourists traveling this road began to buy objects offered along the side of the road by the Seminoles and soon shops were selling the clothes, dolls and baskets, bringing income to the Indians.

The strong patterns of the rickrack and strips of cloth are traditional work, made by the women on antique sewing machines. The women made skirts and blouses and large shirts and jackets for the men, with special clothes made for a chief. The dolls offered for sale were dressed just like the humans selling them.

I own one of the skirts, which I bought a number of years ago at the gift shop on the Tamiami Trail. Even then a man’s jacket sold for $100. The work that goes into one of these handsome jackets makes it well worth its price. The clothes displayed in the museum show are from a private collection and from the museum’s own collection.

Besides the featured clothing, the exhibit included sweetgrass baskets similar to the ones made in the Charleston, S.C., low country. There is also intricate beadwork and some large handmade silver jewelry.

These Indian tribes of Florida come originally from Alabama, but they were determined to stay in Florida and not be moved again to another part of the country. From about 200 strong when they arrived in 1700, the tribe has grown and kept its own customs and lifestyles.

Today there are Seminole Indian gambling resorts in Florida that provide income to the tribes. The Indians still build their huts, called chickees, of poles and palms. Some of the young Indian men earn money by wrestling alligators at the roadside stops for the benefit of tourists.

The South Florida Museum in Bradenton is famous for another long-running attraction: its aquarium, with a live manatee named Snooty. This endangered animal was brought to the aquarium years ago as a youngster and has grown in 50 years to weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Snooty likes to eat romaine lettuce and will do a few tricks for fresh carrots.

No one really knows how long manatees live. The slow swimmers are often injured by boat propellers as they swim so near the surface of the water.

Bradenton is a busy city on the Gulf of Mexico coast of Florida, just north of the larger city of Sarasota, with white sand beaches and many attractions.

For information of this or other exhibits, contact www.southfloridamuseum.org or call (941) 746-4131.

 

June Griffin is a freelance writer who lives in Lewiston.