A perfect example of how scholarly research in folklore and anthropology can be made accessible and interesting for a wider audience is the Artisan Ancestors podcast produced and hosted by my friend and colleague Jon Kay. (Jon is, among other roles, the Director of Traditional Arts Indiana.) If you have not yet encountered the Artisan Ancestors show, I urge you to check it out. As Jon describes it, the focus of the show is on strategies for “researching creative lives and handmade things.” Jon does interviews with people involved in such work with the goals of encouraging and guiding newcomers to such studies and of expanding the horizons of those already deeply involved. Long adept in the skills of the public folklorist, Jon has mastered the podcast genre. He is a great interviewer and he knows how to do in interview with the needs of his audience and the requirements of the medium in mind. The production values are high but it is clear that he has worked out a system that gets good results without endless, expensive work.
In his newest episode (#26) Jon interviews Dr. Candace Greene, another friend and the Director of the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA). The interview explores the purposes and goals of SIMA in a way that not only introduces this training program (for which I was a faculty member this past summer) but also encourages deeper understanding of the broader value of museum collections for research in social and cultural history. It is a great interview and listening to it will illustrate not only the value of the SIMA effort but also suggest the value of podcasting initiatives such as Artisan Ancestors. Kudos to Jon and Candace for their great job with this episode.
I am presently batting my email box. One of the small rewards in this situation is discovering great news emails that slipped by. From the excellent news rediscovered department, I am happy to note two recent awards bestowed on friends from the museum anthropology community.
Dr. Nancy Parezo was awarded the 2011-2012 Graduate College Graduate and Professional Education Teaching and Mentoring Award at her home institution, the University of Arizona. Nancy is a member of the Department of American Indian Studies at UA and is a lead faculty member for the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology held each year at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. (I will be joining Nancy for part of this year’s SIMA).
The Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM) recently bestowed its 2012 Guardians of Culture and Lifeways International Awards. Winning for “Outstanding Project” was the
Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, “an interactive, online digital archive that provides access to Plateau peoples’ cultural materials at Washington State University through tribal curation. The Portal provides a way for tribal communities to include their own knowledge and memories of digital materials for various collections. This project is an inspiring model of how university repositories can successfully collaborate with tribal communities to curate and enhance collections with tribal voices and histories.” The project director for this effort is my friend and collaborator Kimberly Christen of Washington State University.
Belated congratulations to Nancy, Kim, and to the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal team on these well deserved awards.
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.
I have been offline and not able to post on the Smithsonian work over the past few days. Today I need to get back to work, so here is a quick picture post. Shown above is a pine needle basket made by Rosa J. Pierite. In the artist’s information tag that accompanies the basket, she (?) identifies her tribal background as Choctaw-Tunica. Elsewhere (as in this Louisiana Folklife Center artist profile of Mrs. Pierite’s daughter, also a basketweaver), her tribal heritage has been noted as Choctaw-Biloxi.
Such pine needle baskets in the shape of a variety of animals–turkeys, alligators, etc.–are a remarkable basketry innovation from the Native peoples of Louisiana, but they are poorly represented in museum collections because earlier collectors and curators often ignored them as tourist arts. It is great that this example, along with three other pine needle baskets by Mrs. Pierite (not animal shaped) will be joining the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. This example is currently accounted as number T-006.
Please forgive the pop culture reference in my post title.
Museum collections are made by people who gather together the things that other people make. Earlier this week I was looking at a group of objects in the William C. Sturtevant Collection that were gathered together and documented by then-University of Oklahoma doctoral student Michael Davis. This is an exceptional collection of German silver jewelry made in the 1960s by an impressive number of Native American artists working on the Southern Plains.
After his OU studies, Michael Davis went on to become a Professor of Anthropology at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. I wanted to congratulate him on the quality of the collection that he made and the exceptional way in which he documented it. Thinking about getting in touch, I discovered sadly that he passed away a few months ago. An obituary appears in the Kirksville Daily Express and is available online.
One reason that we make museum collections is to preserve something of the past for the sake of the future. I hope that Professor Davis, as well as the artists whom he documented, would be pleased to know that their work is being appreciated by those who have come along after them.
A German silver roach spreader by Pawnee smith Julius Ceasar (1910-1982) collected for the National Museum of Natural History by Michael Davis (1942-2012) and found as part of the William C. Sturtevant Collection, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History.