IU President McRobbie’s recent trip to South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana has proven incredibly timely for projects coming to fruition at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The IU delegation began its trip with extensive consultations in South Africa and this linked up nicely with the Margaret Bourke-White exhibition that we opened today. In one of his many compelling stories from the trip, Ryan Piurek recounted the deep history of positive university involvement in South African partnerships and projects, concluding his story with reflections on the Bourke-White exhibition as a current collaboration, one that will see the exhibition travel to two South African venues.
The President’s trip is concluding with a visit to another African nation where IU has deep ties and a long history of collaboration–Ghana. At MMWC, we are very excited that the museum is also connecting with audiences, communities, collaborators, and research opportunities in Ghana. While the museum’s ties to Ghana and scholars of the nation are multiple, the story right now centers on the work of IU art history graduate student, and MMWC collaborator, Brittany Sheldon. With MMWC help, Brittany has developed an exhibition based on her research on traditional decoratively painted houses. The exhibition State of an Art: Contemporary Ghanaian Bambɔlse will be presented this fall at the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board. The exhibition features Sheldon’s photographs documenting the red, black, and white designs (bambɔlse) that adorn the earthen walls of houses in the Upper East Region in Ghana.
Brittany is in Ghana now and is documenting her continued studies on her blog. For details on the exhibition that she has worked with the MMWC to develop, see the museum’s website.
Congratulations to Brittany on her exhibition and good luck to her in her continued studies with Ghanaian artists and tradition bearers.
The latest episode of WFIU’s program Artworks does a great job of introducing the work of two of my IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology colleagues. Kate Horigan discusses so-called urban legends, the subject of one of her current courses. On the occasion of Traditional Arts Indiana being recognized with a Governor’s Arts Award, Jon Kay describes its many projects around the state of Indiana. No point of my writing about it, when the great show is there ready for you to listen to. Find it here:
A quick note to report that Yuchi Folklore: Cultural Expression in Southeastern Native American Community is now in print and available from the University of Oklahoma Press (its publisher), Amazon.com, and other booksellers. Any royalties that the book might generate will be forwarded directly from the publisher to the Euchee (Yuchi) Tribe of Indians for its use in its cultural and historical preservation efforts. (So anyone who purchases the book is helping a not-for-profit university press with special interest in the peoples and histories of Oklahoma, and (if the book can first cover its production costs), also contributing in a small way to the cultural work of the Euchee people.)
Two of the book’s chapters were co-authored with Mary S. Linn, whom I want to thank for joining me in the effort. We both have benefited tremendously from the kindness and support of numerous Euchee (Yuchi) individuals and their help is hopefully meaningfully represented in the volume. None of our Euchee friends are responsible, of course, for the book’s shortcomings.
Chairman Andrew Skeeter (Euchee [Yuchi] Tribe of Indians) and Daniel Swan (Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History) provided generous blurbs appearing on the book’s back cover and two smart reviewers for the press provided great feedback which, I hope, was meaningfully put to use in my revision of the book. Thanks to them all as well.
The University of Oklahoma Press was a joy to work with and I very much appreciate its great efforts on my behalf.
Rather than summarize the book here, feel encouraged to check out its page at the University of Oklahoma Press.
Having been asked to do so, I am happy to share news that the Smithsonian Institution is seeking applications for the position of Director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. This is an important and exciting post. See the details below:
The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution, is accepting applications and nominations for a Director. The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is responsible for planning, developing, and managing programs which have as their major objectives the research, documentation, presentation and conservation of living traditional and grassroots folk cultures of the United States and of other countries. The director is responsible for the administrative direction and management of all Center program activities including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, exhibitions, symposia, scholarly research, cultural heritage policy, educational projects and all media, as well as the participation of other Smithsonian museums and programs in national celebration events and National Mall events. The Director represents, at national and international levels, Smithsonian concerns relating to the understanding of the cultural representation of living heritage, as well as public sector folklore, and policies related to them. The Director will have a proven track record of leadership, management and fundraising skills to run a unique multi-disciplinary cultural organization. The successful applicant must have a degree in a relevant field, management level experience in public programming, and have earned a presence in the scholarly and/or cultural community. The Smithsonian offers a competitive salary commensurate with experience and a comprehensive benefit plan including a lucrative, fully vested retirement program with TIAA- CREF. For detailed information on the position, qualifications and application instructions, go to http://www.sihr.si.edu/jobs.cfm and scroll to position announcement EX-13-01. We are only accepting online applications for this position. For questions or additional information, contact Tom Lawrence, 202-633-6319 or email@example.com. The Smithsonian Institution is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
A very small “wedding jug” by Eastern Cherokee potter Maude Welch (1894-1953). William C. Sturtevant collected this piece from Ms. Welch on September 15, 1951, about two years before her death. Drawing upon her experience visiting Catawba potters, Mrs. Welch was central to the revitalization of pottery making among the Eastern Cherokee. A rich profile of her and her work is available online from the Western Carolina University library. It was authored by M. Anna Fariello.
This piece (which is only about 2″ in all dimensions) is in the William C. Sturtevant Collection, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. For those who are interested in such things, Sturtevant paid Mrs. Welch’s asking price of 50 cents. (Fifty cents is about $4.00 today, if adjusted for inflation.)
The William C. Sturtevant collection includes a nice group of coiled, sea grass baskets created by the African American weavers of the Sea Island region near Charleston, South Carolina. The better documented of these were collected by William C. Sturtevant in 1959. In this group is the basket shown above. It was made by Mary Jane Manigault (1913-2010), a basket maker who would go on (25 years later) to be awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984.
There is a rich literature about the Sea Island basketry tradition. A recent work is the exhibition catalog Grass Roots: The African Origins of an American Art. The volume was edited by Dale Rosengarten, Theodore Rosengarten, and Enid Schildkrout and published by the Museum of African Art in 2008. The associated exhibition led to free online resources on the subject being made available through the Museum of African Art, the National Museum of African Art, and the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina.
Interestingly, one of William Sturtevant’s photographs from his 1959 visit to the Sea Island region was featured in the Grass Roots exhibition’s online presence. It is an image of Pearl Dingle weaving a basket at her family’s stand in Mt. Pleasant South Carolina. You can see it on the McKissick website.
The rich obituary for Mrs. Manigault published on the website for the documentary film Bin Yah: There is No Place Like Home is definitely worth checking out. It notes that her baskets are among those in the amazing Sea Island collection curated at the Mathers Museum (at Indiana University) where I work as a Faculty Curator. The NEA National Heritage Fellow profile for her is another great online resource.
This basket is currently identified as T331 and is from the William C. Sturtevant Collection, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
The diversity of materials used by Native peoples in the Americas to make hand rattles is pretty staggering. Among the farming peoples of the Southwest, Plains, Northeast and Southeast, gourds are one important material used for this purpose. Having the same basic form as gourd rattles, but unique to some Southeastern Indian peoples, are rattles, such as this Florida Seminole example, made from coconuts. William C. Sturtevant provided the coconut used here to Jack Motlow, from whom he commissioned it for $2.00 in 1951. This Florida Seminole example is made exactly like those used among the Southeastern peoples in Oklahoma, including among the Yuchi. (I commissioned Yuchi examples for the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa during the later 1990s.) Such rattles are called “gourds” in English in Oklahoma and are particularly suited to the outdoor dances of the region. Such rattles are loud and thus sound great when used, as they most often are, outside, in open spaces. (The holes drilled in the coconut amplify the rattle’s sound.)
This example is #301 in the William C. Sturtevant Collection, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
(The Seminole Tribune has published biographical profiles of two of Jack and Lena Motlow’s daughters. These profiles are of Louise Motlow and Mary Motlow Sanchez and are online.)
Here is an image of a double woven river cane basket with lid from the Chitimacha people of Louisiana. It was purchased at auction in 1972 by William C. Sturtevant and is now in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution (T070).
William C. Sturtevant’s collection includes a group of baskets purchased in 1961 at the Choctaw Indian Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi. This example (above) is part of this group. It is number 580 and I have not yet learned who the artist who made it is. This basket is made from rivercane, a plant related to bamboo that is indigenous to the Southeast of North America.
To gain a sense of native basket making in the South as a dynamic cultural activity, check out these photographs from the 1st Gathering of Southeastern Indian Basketweavers in 2002. This was an event organized by the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program and the Williamson Museum.
Here is another basket from this group. A rivercane tray, it is number 576. Both are in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
When wearing my curator hat, I have seen how ubiquitous love of tiny baskets seems to be, at least among fans of hand made objects. While I am sure that some engineer is doing nano-scale weaving already, tiny-scale seems good enough for fans of Native American basketry. The best known heroes in this area are the basket weavers of California, particularly the Pomo with their amazing feather covered baskets, but the art of the tiny basket has also been pursued in the native South. This impulse is reflected in this Choctaw basket by “Sweeny Willis” that was collected by John Mann Goggin among the Choctaw residing near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Ms. Willis’s name is spelled “Sweenie” elsewhere, such as in the records associated with pottery that she made that is in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian.
This single weave river cane basket is currently referred to as #494 in the William C. Sturtevant Collection, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
For a bit of theorizing, look below the fold.