Indian vest donated to Goodwill is a treasure

Justin McCarthy of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture adjusts the display of the American Indian beaded vest that was given to the museum by Goodwill in Seattle. ()

You just never know what you might find at your local Goodwill store: something old, something new, and sometimes, treasures worthy of a museum collection.

So it was with a beaded American Indian vest dropped off at the Dearborn Goodwill at South Lane Street in Seattle.

Sharp-eyed staff thought it might be something special, and an independent appraiser estimated its value for Goodwill at $5,000.

Now, the early 20th-century Plains Indian-style beaded vest has been accepted by Seattle’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture for its permanent collection.

“It is just gorgeous, and we are thrilled to have it,” said Julie Stein, director of the museum.

Goodwill donated the vest to the museum so that it could benefit the entire community, said Katherine Boury, communications manager for Seattle Goodwill.

Usually, items are sold by Goodwill through its stores, or to other users, with the proceeds used to run its free job-training and education programs.

The nonprofit will take just about anything, for which it will find a recycler or buyer, Boury said. But sometimes, only a museum will do.

The vest was dropped off in a trunk back in 2006, and Goodwill has been working all that time to find out what it was, and what the best disposition for the item would be, Boury said.

The Burke, with its Native American collection, made sense, Boury said.

The front of the vest is delicately beaded with Italian glass beads sewn onto hide.

It is lined with cotton and has a buckle cinch decorating its black velvet back.

Seams give it a perfect drape and its colors, including a rosy pink, are rare, said Justin McCarthy, Burke ethnologist.

Beads accenting the shoulders have a white core covered with red glass, giving them a special glow.

The vest, probably of Flathead, Gros Ventre, Kalispell or Fort Belknap origin, is an adult man’s garment that might have been made to sell, or been reserved for use on special occasions, said Katie Bunn-Marcuse, director of the Bill Holm center at the Burke.