Oregon Folklife Network

Mildred Quaempts

2012-2013 TAAP AWARDEE

Traditional skill/art/craft: Umatilla Dentalium Piecework

Religion: Seven Drum

Ethnic Background: Yakama/Cayuse

Apprentice: Modesta Minthorn

Contact Information

Phone: 541-310-1914

E-mail: mildredquaempts@ctuir.org

Describe your traditional skill/craft/art, when and why it is done, and your history with it.

Piecework with denatallium shell which can elaborately decorate a dress, hair pieces, earrings, hats. I usually make hairpieces and wedding veils for brides. I enjoy making the veils because they each are not made the same. I do stay as traditional as possible when I make the veils. I don’t give the veils to the bride until one day before she marries or the same day.

How and from whom was the tradition learned?

I first observed and helped using denalliums with my grandma, Annie Joe, better known as “Tquannanmy” when she was applying them on medallions or on dresses. I was 9 year old. I used to travel with her to Indian wedding trades and saw other young girls wearing hairpieces made from dentallium. I love looking at old photos of individuals using dentallium.

How, when, why did you come to Oregon?

I was born and raised on the Umatilla Indian Reservation and have lived in Oregon all my 59 years.

Artist Biography

Birthplace: Pendleton, OR

Birth Date: 4/10/53

My name is Mildred Anne Quaempts, my Indian name is istisyawak. I have been a resident of the state of Oregon all of my life. I have five children (one deceased) and six grandchildren. I am a Umatilla language speaker and have had the opportunity to learn other dialects at Warm Springs and Yakama. I help the tribal community during sacred ceremonies my hobby is sewing wedding headdresses or veils for women and dentallium hair ties. I have been using dentalliums since I was ten years old helping my grandmother to put cowrie and dentallium shells on dresses and dentallium medallians with tiny shells. I like to use real smoked hide or white hide, old beads and two inch shells.


My honor is making items using dentallium in memory of my grandma Annie Joe who not only taught me this special work but [also from whom] I learned to speak our Indian Language. It’s always rewarding to see my work and never had an opportunity to do presentations. I did mentor on woman who was making a veil for her daughter’s wedding.

I sing at Pendleton Round Up Saturday Arena and participated in the night show Happy Canyon singing [and] welcome dance.