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Posts from the ‘Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History’ Category

Museum Anthropology Review Volume 16: Studies in Museum Ethnography in Honor of Daniel C. Swan

Social media is changing again and it seems like a good time to give Shreds and Patches more love and attention.

My collaborator and special issue co-editor Michael Paul Jordan and I are very pleased to announce the publication of a new double-issue of Museum Anthropology Review titled Studies in Museum Ethnography in Honor of Daniel C. Swan

Find the new collection in honor of Dan in Museum Anthropology Review online here: Thanks to all of the authors, production staff, publishers, peer-reviewers, and helpers who made this collection possible.

Daniel C. Swan pictured wearing glasses and holding a water bottle while standing in front of a large building and a plaza filled with many tourists. He wears a plaid button-down shirt in blue and white and he looks towards the camera while the other people in the scene face away from the camera as they move into the plaza and the building beyond. The sky is vivid blue with streaks of high white clouds. The tile roofs of the buildings behind the subject are orange.
The above image appears in the introduction to the special collection “Studies in Museum Ethnography in Honor of Daniel C. Swan” with the following camption. “In the days following the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage and on the eve of the global COVID pandemic, Daniel C. Swan was one of 19.3 million reported visitors to the Forbidden City (a.k.a Palace Museum) in 2019. May 21, 2019. Photograph by Michael Paul Jordan.”

Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community Recognized with Book Prizes

The annual business meeting of the Council for Museum Anthropology (CMA) was held today and one of its key moments was the bestowal of the annual CMA Book Award. I am very happy to note that Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community: A Giving Heritage by Daniel Swan and Jim Cooley, a title in the Material Vernaculars series that I edit for the Indiana University Press, was recognized with the award. The following text is taken from a CMA Facebook post. It announces the award and also discusses an honorable mention title, Solen Roth’s book Incorporating Culture: How Indigenous People are Reshaping the Northwest Coast Art Industry.

It is our pleasure to award the 2020 CMA book award to Daniel Swan and Jim Cooley for their 2019 book, “Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community” (Indiana University Press), and to give an honorable mention to Solen Roth for her 2018 book “Incorporating Culture” (UBC Press). Both books exemplify the range of work that the Council of Museum Anthropology promotes.

Swan, D. and Cooley, J. 2019. “Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community: A Giving Heritage.” Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

It is with great pleasure that we award the CMA book award to Daniel Swan and Jim Cooley. “Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community” is an exemplar of what museum anthropology can and should be. The book is the result of long-term collaborative work with the Osage Nation, and uses archival, ethnographic and ethnohistorical methods to reanimate museum collections of Osage heritage. Doing so, the book is a highly accessible multi-media examination of change and continuity in Osage wedding traditions and clothing. Through its attention to material culture the book demonstrates not only the rich vibrancy of the Osage wedding traditions but also demonstrates the sort of work that can only be done through what Ray Silverman termed “slow museology”, which is work built on mutual respect, collaboration, and trust. This is a book that transcends its subject matter and helps us all see the possibilities of museum anthropology.

Roth, S. 2018. “Incorporating Culture: How Indigenous People are Reshaping the Northwest Coast Art Industry.” Vancouver: UBC Press.

We are delighted to award honorable mention for the CMA book award to Solen Roth. “Incorporating Culture” is a unique ethnography of the “artware” industry. Solen coins the term artware to describe commodities decorated with Pacific Northwest coast images that circulate inside and outside of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. The book examines the array of values these objects accumulate as they transition between these sites. It is a sophisticated historical and multi-sited ethnographic look at the intercultural phenomena of the artware industry, which is an example of what she terms ‘culturally modified capitalism.’ The book helps shed light on a compelling and important feature and dynamic of the intercultural object-world and economy in the North West Coast.

In addition to the CMA Book Award, I am also happy to note that Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community: A Giving Heritage was recently recognized during the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society’s Folklore and History section, which bestows the annual Wayland D. Hand Prize given for the best book combining historical and folkloristic methods and materials. The biennial prize honors the eminent folklorist Wayland D. Hand (1907-1986). Wedding Clothes was given the honorable mention in the 2020 Hand Prize competition. The prize itself went to Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster (Oxford University Press, 2018) by Guy Beiner. As reprinted on a Facebook post, the Hand Prize committee said the following about Wedding Clothes.

The beautifully illustrated volume explores through history and folklife research the ways that gift exchange, motivated by the values of generosity and hospitality serves as a critical component in the preservation and perpetuation of Osage society.

Congratulations to all of the Osage Nation citizens who worked on the larger Osage Weddings Project (which included a major traveling exhibition) and to Dan and Jim as authors. Special thanks go to the Indiana University Press for investing tremendous care in the making of an extraordinary book.

Daniel C. Swan, Museum Leader

Below find the ninth in a series of posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Here I take a turn reflecting on an an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson

Daniel C. Swan, Museum Leader

by Jason Baird Jackson

Earlier posts in this series in celebration of Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the Sam Noble Museum, and from the University of Oklahoma where it is based, have emphasized mentoring. To impact a more junior colleague positively and to help launch them, or to advance them, in their career is particularly noble work. Since we met one another in the spring of 1994, Dan has been an extraordinary mentor to me and an energetic advocate for me and my work. My career has followed the particular—and wonderful—pathways that it has because of Dan’s deep influence on me and on my lifecourse. This observation could easily be the stepping off point for an essay on Dan’s outsized role as a mentor and supporter to me and to many others. I would love to write that essay.

For others, as for myself, a key part of Dan’s influence as a mentor relates to his providing an observable, emulatable model for collaborations that link communities and cultural organizations for work that addresses the needs or goals of the partner community and that serves society more broadly, while also advancing collaborative scholarly research. While Dan’s involvement in a wide range of such projects in Indian Country are perhaps best known, he has been involved in partnerships and initiatives connecting to, and serving, a still wider range of constituencies and communities. This was true, for instance, in his work as a curator in a an extremely diverse city, while at the Science Museum of Minnesota and I saw it first hand in his work as Senior Curator at the Gilcrease Museum.

In 1999, for instance, we worked together to raise funds for an “Oklahoma African American Folk Arts Survey” aimed at addressing the Gilcrease Museum’s historic neglect of African American cultural life in the state and in the Americas. We brought the Smithsonian exhibition Creativity and Resistance: Maroon Cultures in the Americas to the Gilcrease the following year for the same reason. At a much larger scale, one of his most ambitious and far reaching Gilcrease projects was the major permanent exhibition Las Artes de Mexico. Opened in 1996 and co-curated with Kevin Smith, that project shook things up for Gilcrease and leavened an excellent but little-known collection of Mexican art and documents with contemporary collections and contemporary voices—including Indigenous ones. It was perhaps the first time that a major Gilcrease Museum exhibition was informed by new, project-based ethnographic field research. It was also innovative not just for the museum but for the field in the way that it snuck in a wide range of then emerging best practices and subverted, in a fruitful and innovative way, the then-standard conventions of art-museum-based exhibition presentation and planning. Even the staid Tulsa World captured the sense of what I am getting at here in this June 9, 1996 report by arts reporter James D. Watts, Jr.

I could keep reflecting on Dan’s exhibition projects in this way. Symbols of Faith and Belief: The Art of the Native American Church (a partnered project of the Native American Church of Oklahoma and the Gilcrease Museum), A Gathering of Traditions: A Centennial Celebration of Dr. Charles Marius Barbeau in Oklahoma (a partnership of the Wyandotte Nation, the Seneca-Cayuga Nation, and the Sam Noble Museum) and A Giving Heritage: Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community  (a partnered project of the Sam Noble Museum and the Osage Nation Museum) in particular deserve detailed discussion. I hope to write, or to help someone write, that essay. Dan has been involved in a huge number and range of exhibitions and an even larger number of public-facing and community facing programs. These are not well-enough known.

Mentoring. Museum collaboration. Exhibitions. Dan’s accomplishments in these areas warrant extensive discussion. So too with his own research and writing. If you have not read Peyote Religious Art: Symbols of Faith and Belief (University Press of Mississippi, 1999) or Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community (co-authored with Jim Cooley) (Indiana University Press, 2019) yet, I really urge you to do so. On the article side, my favorites include “Early Osage Peyotism” (Plains Anthropologist, 1998), “The North American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea (Wild.) Pers.) – Sacred Food of the Osage (Ethnobotany Research and Applications, 2010), and (with Michael Paul Jordan) “Contingent Collaborations: Patterns of Reciprocity in Museum–Community Partnerships” (Journal of Folklore Research, 2015). It is hard to fathom how Dan found time for so much writing when his administrative, curatorial, teaching, and collaboration duties were so extensive across so many years. His larger oeuvre is remarkable and really warrants separate discussion. I hope to help with that and with helping surface the ways that all of these activities intersected with his teaching work at the universities of Tulsa, Memphis, and Oklahoma.

­­I am cheating by evoking those other areas here in brief as I do not want them to go unmentioned in the series. But the focus of my thinking today is in museum leadership. Between 2013 and 2019, I served as Director of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures (MMWC). Almost daily during those years, I thought about Dan and about all of the things that I learned from him about leading teams of colleagues within museums. I was really fortunate to have been hired by Dan to work as his understudy and assistant at the Gilcrease Museum during his tenure there as Senior Curator. Dan had begun his own museum career at the Oklahoma Historical Society’s main facility in Oklahoma City and then at the White Hair Memorial, an OHS state historic site and community learning center in the Osage Nation. Before returning to Oklahoma to work at Gilcrease Museum as Senior Cuator, Dan was Curator of Ethnology at the Science Museum of Minnesota. After Gilcrease he served as Director of the University of Memphis’ Chucalissa Museum and finally returned again to Oklahoma to follow me as the Sam Noble Museum’s Curator of Ethnology. Yesterday was his last day in that role and as the museum’s Interim Director. I write this reflection on his first day of retirement.

Museum leadership is often hard, especially in moments such as the current one. In each of his museum leadership roles, Dan made difficult choices with his eyes focused on how to advance the community-service mission of these museums. When I became Director at MMWC, I thought often about how I so regularly watched Dan turn bad news into good news and how he stayed positive and good humored even when this could not be done. There was almost always another day to try again. Every problem could be approached from a new angle. New friends, new funds, new relationships, new ways of organizing the team, new ways of organizing the day, new ways of organizing the collections, could almost always be found and, with them, new progress could eventually be made. The time that I spent at Gilcrease working with Dan and with our colleagues of that period was the most formative in my career. Despite all of the good things that have happened to me since, it remains my own personal golden age. I was shown how to do the work of a curator and given ever more expansive opportunities to do it. I had so much fun to work with Dan and with my other Gilcrease colleagues of that time.

But, I was also watching how the museum’s senior staff, its directors (there were several in a brief period) and especially how Dan, as Senior Curator, did their work. How did museum leaders interact with the board and with funders? Where did the funding come from? How did the leadership group work with the media? With city officials? How were staffing problems dealt with? Controversies? Mistakes? The usual physical plant crises? How did the museum present itself to its audiences and was it diversifying those? With respect to Dan in particular, how did he pull off major projects (the Thomas Moran exhibition, for instance) that went beyond the skills and experiences that the museum’s staff already had? How did he help the teams that he led innovate? I learned so much from watching him and from being involved in the group work that he led the Gilcrease Museum’s curatorial, registration, education, conservation, and programs staff in.

There are many lessons, but one that I thought about most often in my own directorship was the balance that a museum leader has to try to strike between firmness and flexibility, seriousness and fun, expectations (of growth, of productivity, of commitment, of progress) and acceptance (of personality differences, of relative skills, of career investment, of hard realities). In striking this balance, Dan always displayed an equanimity that I never came close to. With the staff, he knew just when the best course of action was to lighten the mood with appropriate humor. Inversely, he knew when frank words were necessary and how to convey them constructively. From my perspective, he knew just when he needed to roll up his own sleeves and join in the physical work of lifting a crate or painting a wall and when he needed to straighten his tie and leave such work to those for whom it was an assigned duty. I wish I had words adequate to describe what I am getting at, but the key thing is that Dan was a model museum leader not just in the sense that he was an excellent one, but in the sense that he literally provided the model by which I and others learned how to also be museum leaders ourselves through his example and influence.

While my time as a museum director is concluded, for now at least, I still use the lessons that I gained form Dan daily. They appear in my courses about museums and curatorship, certainly. They appear in my own mentoring of students and colleagues. But they also permeate my day-to-day work. At present, I am returning to my own research and my own collaborations. In doing so, I am trying to build a new team of collaborators and to revitalize relationships with partners for a post-MMWC period. I am trying to keep existing efforts going while looking ahead to new ones. Doing just this is fundamental to the work that I have watched Dan do for all of the twenty-six years that I have known him.

I am thrilled at the prospect of Dan having, at last, the freedom to take up his projects and pursue his collaborations out of pure interest and commitment without the burden of having to feed a museum’s insatiable demand for new exhibitions, new grants, new reports, new budgets, new donations, and all of the rest.

Dan—thank you for all that you have given and all that you have done. Congratulations!


During the Osage Weddings Project, which led to the exhibition “A Giving Heritage: Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community” and to the book Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community, project participants, including Dan Swan, held consultative events in the Osage community, such as this discussion in May 2015 at the Wah-Zha-Zhi Cultural Center in Pawhuska.

Thank You, Dan, For All The Keys

Below find the eighth in a series of guest posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Reflecting here on an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact is Abby Wightman, who is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Mary Baldwin College. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson

Thank You, Dan, For All The Keys

by Abby Wightman

When my friends Michael Jordan and Jason Jackson asked me to write this piece in honor of Dan Swan, I was surprised – honored and pleased, but still surprised. Dan did not serve on my dissertation committee. We have never been work colleagues. I am not a museum anthropologist, and we have never co-authored a publication. In anthropological terms, we did not have formally-defined roles with assigned duties and reciprocal obligations. Yet it is precisely this list of “nots” – of all the ways Dan and I are not connected – that is so important here.

When Dan arrived at the University of Oklahoma in 2007, I was nearing the end of my doctoral studies in cultural anthropology, so he did not serve on my dissertation committee. Despite this, Dan reached out to me twice in later years – first, to ask me to participate on a conference panel and then several years later to work with him on a bigger, but also more complex and delicate project.

At the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, Dan had inherited a binder full of photographs of the Plains Apache community of Oklahoma, taken by anthropologist J. Gilbert McAllister in 1933. McAllister spent one year collecting kinship data among the Plains Apache, and this fieldwork became the basis for an important chapter in the well-known volume Social Organization of North American Tribes, edited by Fred Eggan (1937). As part of his research, McAllister also took many photographs of the Apache people and families he came to know. These photographs, through a rather circuitous route, came to the Sam Noble Museum and eventually to Dan’s care.

Together, Dan and I developed a modest pilot project with three goals: to learn more about the context and people featured in McAllister’s photographs, to ascertain community interest in the collection, and to find a place to archive the collection.  In the summer of 2013, with the support of the Sam Noble Museum and a small grant, I spent a summer of fieldwork in Anadarko and Caddo County, visiting with Apache friends. Apache folks patiently went through each photograph to provide the context missing from McAllister’s sparse annotations. The majority of unknown individuals were identified, as were location and context. The results were pretty astonishing, considering the age of the collection and the poor quality of some photographs.

Unsurprisingly, McAllister’s photographs strongly appealed to many Apache people. Unlike anthropologists, who might value historic images for their ethnographic value, Apache people primarily valued McAllister’s photographs for their social value. Although some of McAllister’s photos feature examples of material or expressive culture, the majority of the collection, over 60 photographs, are portraits. These photographs emphasize individuals and families in everyday dress, posed in front of homes, camps, cars, or – rarely – tipis. For many Apache people, McAllister’s photographs were valuable because of these portraits and their kinship ties to people in the present. While the photographs were visual representations of beloved relatives, they also had a material value and use beyond the image, as evidence of kinship claims and connections.

Like most fieldwork, however, this project wasn’t wrapped up tidily in one summer. While we made both hard and digital copies of photographs available to participants, I knew the entire collection should be stored in the community. In 2013, however, that was not possible. For six years, the binder with copies of the collection sat in my office, a constant reminder of my unfinished obligations to the Apache community. Last year, after checking with Dan, I was able to deposit hard and digital copies of the McAllister collection to the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma Cultural Preservation Office. The negatives will be archived, and accessible to the community and scholars, at the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma.

As the latest in a line of University of Oklahoma graduate students working with the Plains Apache, it made sense, perhaps, that Dan would ask me to help with McAllister’s photographs. But in a very real way, it also didn’t make sense. At my small university, requirements for tenure and promotion prioritize teaching and advising undergraduates. Dan knew that I could not reciprocate his offer of research support with support from my own institution – yet he offered me opportunities anyway, even without a formal student-advisor relationship. He became an invaluable connection back to Southern Plains scholarship and to the institution where I received my doctorate when I had few other links to this world.

Writing one of the later pieces in this blog series, I have had the opportunity to read previous posts that celebrated Dan as a dissertation advisor, mentor, confidant, father figure, and colleague. Like others, I have benefited and learned from Dan’s expansive knowledge, inclusivity, and respectful collaboration with the communities in which he works. To me, though, Dan’s lasting impact was as a generous provider of opportunities, opening doors to new possibilities without expectation of return. Perhaps a better analogy is that Dan handed you the key and trusted you to unlock the door yourself. It is an advising model based on mutual respect, and it has inspired how I advise undergraduates – providing students with the keys to opportunities and experiences, trusting their judgement and abilities.

Thank you, Dan, for all those keys. Best wishes on all your future adventures!


Photograph by the author. Anadarko, Oklahoma. 2013.


Pílla toksali ishaaissacha’chika hánglolihmat chokma amahoobatok…

The normal headnote follows here instead as a footnote.*

Dan –

Pílla toksali ishaaissacha’chika hánglolihmat chokma amahoobatok. Chokmat ishtoksaháli bíyyi’kattooka ithánali. Chimittibaatoksali’, chiholisso pisa’, chinkana’ iicho’ma’at chinchokma’chihookmano ilanhi. Chokmat isháa’shki.

Yammak ílla.

Yakkookay chimanhili

Lokosh (Joshua D Hinson, PhD)


The Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma via WikiMedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Dan –

So when I heard that you were going to retire it seemed good to me. I know you’ve worked tirelessly, and that you’ve done your work well. Your coworkers, your students, your friends – we all wish you well. Be good as you’re going along.

That’s it.

Sincerest thanks

Lokosh (Joshua D Hinson, PhD)

*Above find the seventh in a series of guest posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Lokosh (Dr. Joshua D Hinson), Director of the Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program, does the important work of reminding us of the importance of keeping Turtle Island’s first languages in use. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson

Attention Drivers: Extremely Rough Road Ahead

Below find the sixth in a series of guest posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Reflecting here on an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact is Kimberly J. Marshall, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson

Attention Drivers: Extremely Rough Road Ahead

by Kimberly J. Marshall

About the same time I landed a tenure-track job at the University of Oklahoma, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley published an important book called Do Babies Matter: Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower (Rutgers University Press, 2013). In this book, the authors draw upon a very large body of data to conclude that, more often than not, women’s academic careers are harmed by family formation.  Although women and men enter PhD programs at relatively equal rates, women are far less likely to achieve tenure in their fields. The researchers found that a critical juncture in determining a female faculty member’s career trajectory happens during the pre-tenure probationary period, a 5-7 year pressure cooker when the expectations for performance at the highest academic levels often collide (for women) with the intense pressures of mothering babies and toddlers.

I never read that book, because I was just starting a tenure-track job with a 2-year old at home (see: pressure cooker, above). But this is the precise juncture in my life when I met Dan Swan, who was assigned as my “tenure mentor.” I don’t know if Dan Swan ever read that book either, but I suspect that he was keenly aware of the kinds of challenges I was likely to face. I do know that without Dan’s mentorship, my road to tenure would have been extremely bumpy. During my first year at OU, Dan simply let me get a feel for the wheel. But at the end of that year, he asked me one of the most important questions I have ever been asked, and one that would prove to have a major influence in determining my tenure trajectory.

Midway through that first summer, after I had a chance to catch my breath, I started to think about the upper-division class I was finally getting to teach, and emailed Dan to get a sense of departmental reading expectations for such a class.  He wrote back to me with some general guidance (the specifics of which I can’t recall), but he ended the email with explicit instructions to stop focusing on my teaching. Instead, he challenged me with this question: “What have you been writing lately?”

Honestly, I was irritated. He was implying I didn’t know that publications (not good teaching) are required for tenure. He was suggesting that I didn’t know how to prioritize my time. I was so irritated, in fact, that I sat down right then and there and banged out my first article in three days. After that, writing became less hard. In 2016, my book was published. And in 2018, I earned tenure and was promoted to Associate Professor.

Being a mentor isn’t always about dispensing pearls of wisdom (although faced with persistent university politicking I have repeated Dan’s prescient motto for me “keep your head down, and do your work” more times than I care to repeat). Sometimes being a good mentor is knowing the potholes in the road ahead and helping people be prepared to steer around them. Dan is well aware of the statistics about female junior faculty and was the kind of mentor who cared enough to see that I was going to have a hard time navigating the road. He knew that as a mother of a young child, as someone who cared deeply about student learning and service to the department that I was at high risk for falling into one of those potholes and subsequently falling short of tenure. And with some good-humored prodding, he persisted in helping me keep my nose pointed in the right direction.

I will always be thankful that he remembered to ask me that question. And now it is my turn. Hey Dan, what have you been writing lately?

I can’t wait to see what he will.

Signs and wildflowers

“Signs and wildflowers” by The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company via Flickr under the terms of a CC BY 2.0 license.

Thanks, Dad.

Below find the fifth in a series of guest posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Reflecting here on an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact is John Lukavic, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Native Arts at the Denver Art Museum. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson

Thanks, Dad.

By John Lukavic

Each year in mid-June I send two Father’s Day messages: one to my own father and one to Dan Swan. Even before Dan and I met professionally, he and I shared a bond through common friends and relations back in New York where we both were raised. While I was a graduate student just a few years into my doctoral program in the mid-2000s, Dan arrived at (or rather, returned to) the University of Oklahoma as curator of ethnology and professor of anthropology and immediately agreed to serve as chair of my graduate committee. It seemed that fate finally brought us together.

Dan loves to tell stories like any father does (ask him about his old friend, a machine gun, and a bar somewhere in Mexico). I cannot count how many times he told Mike Jordan and me about the tasks his own advisor, John Moore, assigned to him while in graduate school: he had to babysit Moore’s kids while Moore was duck hunting; he had to help carry loads of wood so Moore could calculate how much labor was required to do certain tasks—as anthropologists do. But these were just great stories to me—myths and legends of adversity and triumph. My experiences as a graduate student were very different from Dan’s experience because Dan was there to support ME. He babysat MY kids. He read them books and took the time to be part of their lives. He was there through challenging times always to lend support and compassion.

“Doing” is central to Dan’s way of teaching. He understands that experience comes from opportunities and he is always generous with sharing his own opportunities with others. During our time together at OU Dan invited me to co-curate an exhibition of pottery and baskets at the Sam Nobel Museum. He guided me through the entire process from beginning to end. He helped me learn by doing. Way too often new curators are thrown into the fire and asked to navigate such a process without help or mentorship. I cannot express how valuable this was as a young professional. He shared his experiences and opportunities with me which provided a foundation on which I have built my career.

In terms of exhibitions and museum work, I learned from Dan the importance of relationships, responsibility, and respect. He instilled in me a strong belief that my first responsibility is to the artists and communities with whom I work, and the work I do in communities requires building strong relationships and trust. As a non-Indigenous curator who works with Indigenous arts, artists, and communities I embrace this responsibility—the feeling of “walking on egg shells” in everything I do—because I want individuals and communities to hold me responsible. Trust is earned by actions taken and must be renewed and maintained constantly. There is no taking a day off or doing what is easy because no one is looking. Dan instilled in me integrity in both my professional and personal life and, like any good son, I don’t want to let dad down.

All students love a pop quiz, do they not? Well as one of Dan’s students, I can tell you quizzes are frequent and not ever when you expect them. Years ago Dan invited Mike Jordan and me to accompany him to the Ilonska dance in Hominy, OK. We were going to see Osage people he has spent a lifetime getting to know and working with. A lot was on the line for him because he was bringing two students into a part of his life, and his reputation was on the line. Mike and I showed up to Dan’s house, grabbed our chairs out of the car and Dan just smiled. “You two pass,” he said. Bringing your own chair to a dance is like wearing pants and shoes. It is just something you do. Dan was testing us on such a basic thing before he let us get in his car to head up to Hominy. We had to earn his trust by our actions—something that I remind myself of constantly. Once he trusted us we learned so much—important things, such as where to get the best cream pie in Oklahoma and the Okie ritual of standing outside to watch a tornado approach. Typical things a dad teaches his sons.

In 2018 Dan flew to Denver, Colorado to attend an exhibition opening of a show I curated. Hundreds of people came to that opening and dozens of journalists came from all over to cover it. But, it was Dan’s words “I’m so proud of you” that will stay with me always. Professors teach, mentors guide, and fathers care. I mean really care. Fathers also give their kids a hard time every now and then—but it’s done with love. They teach life lessons as much as anything else because, at the end of the day, we are all just humans trying to navigate this path we call life.

Congratulations, Dan, on your retirement, successful career, all the scholarship you have put out into the world, all the lives you have touched, and all the relationships you have developed and maintained. You have given me so much and touched my life in so many ways. My family will always have an extra bed, hot pot of coffee, and cream pie waiting for you when you come to visit.

Thanks, Dad.

IMG_4566 (JL and DCS at DAM)

John Lukavic (left) and Dan C. Swan (right) at the opening of the exhibition “Jeffrey Gibson: Like A Hammer” at the Denver Art Museum in May 2018.





My Apprenticeship with Dan

Below find the fourth of a series of guest posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Reflecting here on an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact is Michael Paul Jordan, Associate Professor of Ethnology in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at Texas Tech University. With me, he has co-organizied this series of guest posts. –Jason Baird Jackson

My Apprenticeship with Dan

by Michael Paul Jordan

I must admit that I approached the writing of this blog post with a great deal of trepidation. How does one distill a relationship into a piece of prose? You see, as an anthropologist, I have accrued debts, which I will never be able to fully repay. I owe a debt to the individuals, especially the many elders, who have shared their knowledge with me. I owe a debt to the communities that have welcomed me into their midst. And, I owe a tremendous debt to Daniel C. Swan. Understanding that whatever I wrote would fall short of capturing not only the profound influence Dan has had on my life, but also how much his mentorship and friendship mean to me, I decided to press on.

As a scholar who has devoted my career to studying expressive culture, I have an affinity for the master-apprentice model. I marvel at the Traditional Arts Indiana Apprenticeship Program, which pairs accomplished folk artists with eager students, facilitating the transmission of knowledge and skills to the next generation. If you look at the biographies of the artists, including the many Native American artists, who have been recognized as Heritage Fellows by the National Endowment for the Arts, you will see that many have been honored not only for their mastery of the mediums and genres in which they work but also for their efforts in perpetuating these artistic traditions. I count myself incredibly fortunate to have learned my craft from Dan Swan. At its best, graduate education resembles the master-apprentice model and I believe this is especially true when it comes to learning how to conduct ethnographic fieldwork.

I want to describe my own apprenticeship as a doctoral student at the University of Oklahoma and the lessons Dan taught me. Dan served as the chair of my dissertation committee. However, that official title cannot fully convey the influence and impact that he has had on my life. Over the past thirteen years, Dan has served as an incredible mentor and has become a dear friend.

Looking back, we can sometimes pinpoint the precise moment when a new chapter in our lives unfolded. A conversation with Dan in his office at the Sam Noble Museum marks such a moment in my own life. It was 2007 and Dan had just arrived at the University of Oklahoma. He had offered me a position as graduate research assistant, working with the museum’s ethnology department. He had also agreed to oversee an independent study course focusing on material culture studies. We were meeting to discuss the position and to hammer out a reading list. Much to my surprise, Dan didn’t usher me out of his office after thirty minutes. Hours passed and we kept talking. Dan’s enthusiasm was contagious. Here was someone who shared my interests. It was long after 5pm when we finally wrapped up. I left excited about the projects that I would be assisting with at the museum and eager to dive into the literature that we had discussed. This was exactly how I had hoped graduate school would be. I could hardly contain myself.

When I arrived home, hours later than my wife had expected, she could immediately see the change in my demeanor. My conversation with Dan had left me energized. This would not be the last time that Dan and I got carried away talking and lost track of time. In fact, that has become something of a running joke between my wife and I. It also would not be the last time that I emerged from a conversation with Dan feeling more optimistic, more confident, and more enthused than beforehand. There would be many such conversations. They occurred over lunch at places like Jump’s in Fairfax, Oklahoma or in the car driving to events in southwest Oklahoma. Such conversations have shaped who I am.

Shortly after Dan had agreed to chair my dissertation committee, we embarked on a series of projects that would have a profound effect on my understanding of what it means to be an ethnographer. The Brooklyn Museum had asked Dan to write a chapter on tipis and the warrior tradition for the catalog that would accompany the exhibit Tipis: Heritage of the Great Plains. He was kind enough to offer me a chance to coauthor the essay. We decided that we wanted to discuss the Kiowa Black Leggings Society’s (KBLWS) tipi, which had been painted by Dixon Palmer, a Kiowa WWII veteran. The tipi was inspired by the nineteenth century Kiowa chief Dohasan’s distinctive Tipi with Battle Pictures, which featured depictions of Kiowa warriors’ martial accomplishments. When Dixon painted the society’s tipi in 1974, he included battle scenes inspired by Kiowa veterans’ service in WWII, including paratroopers, Sherman tanks, and bombers.

During our interview with Dixon Palmer and his nephew Lyndreth Palmer, Commander of the KBLWS, we learned that the society had commissioned the painting of a new tipi to mark the 50th anniversary of the society’s revival. Subsequently, we received permission to film and document the painting of the new tipi.

At that time, the Sam Noble Museum was developing the exhibit One Hundred Summers: A Kiowa Calendar Record, which focused on a recently restored set of drawings created by the Kiowa artist Silver Horn to record 100 years of Kiowa history. Dan envisioned incorporating a series of short videos into the exhibit to highlight contemporary tribal members efforts to preserve their history. Footage of the painting of the new KBLWS tipi, which would depict Kiowa veterans’ service from the nineteenth century to the present, would enable us to discuss the ongoing relationship between art and historical memory in the Kiowa community.

Over the course of the project, we made multiple visits to Anadarko to document the progress of the painting. Dan and I interviewed the artists, Sherman Chaddlesone and Jeff Yellowhair, as well as Commander Lyndreth Palmer. On one of our visits, Commander Palmer asked Dan if the museum would be willing to film the society’s upcoming ceremonial. The Society does not allow filming of its ceremonies, so this request reflected the trust that had been established as we worked on the tipi documentary. Commander Palmer made it clear that the KBLWS would retain control of the footage and hold the copyright of the finished film.

Dan agreed and, in the process, he taught me an important lesson about relinquishing control and sharing ethnographic authority. At its core, Dan’s decision was about reciprocity and about honoring relationships. Commander Palmer and the KBLWS had supported our efforts, permitting us to document the painting of the Battle Tipi. Now, they were asking for Dan’s help. Would the museum support a community led initiative? Would it allocate resources for a project that was not tied directly to its own programming and exhibition goals? Dan, Mike McCarty, and I spent October 10 and 11, 2008 filming the society’s ceremonial. The museum would go on to produce a six-DVD box set for the KBLWS, featuring nine hours of footage.

Working on the exhibit, I also learned an important lesson about integrity and honoring one’s commitments to community members. As I noted, when we started working on the One Hundred Summers exhibit, we intended to create a series of videos highlighting community members’ grassroot efforts to preserve Kiowa history. Early on, Kiowa elder Florene Whitehorse-Taylor expressed her interest in documenting information regarding her ancestor, Chief Dohasan, who had led the tribe from 1833-1866. This seemed like the perfect fit, as Dohasan featured prominently in several events documented in the Silver Horn calendar.

As the opening of the exhibit grew closer, the curatorial team decided to focus exclusively on the painting of the Battle Tipi. While the museum’s plans had changed, Dan was adamant that we would make good on our commitment to Florene Whitehorse-Taylor and her family. Consequently, the museum produced Dohasan’s Legacy, a two DVD compilation of oral history interviews created exclusively for the descendants.

During these projects, Dan imparted lessons that continue to inform and guide my own work with Native American communities. These include lessons about the importance of relationships and of reciprocity. The project also taught me much about collaboration. In the years since the exhibit, Dan and I have spent time reflecting on the project and the lessons that we learned. We have even written about those lessons in the hopes that they might inform broader debates regarding museum-community collaborations.

Dan has done more than anyone else to shape my view of anthropology and my understanding of my role and ethical responsibilities as an ethnographer. By his example, he has challenged me to look for ways in which I can address the needs of the Indigenous communities in my own work. While Dan is retiring, I am confident that he is note done teaching. He still has lessons to impart and many of us, myself included, still have much to learn from him.


Dan and I standing outside the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. In 2019, Dan and I participated in the Seventh Forum on China-U.S. Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage, co-sponsored by the American Folklore Society and China Folklore Society. The conference theme was “Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies” and Dan’s presentation focused, in part, on the museum-community collaborations discussed in this post. Photograph by Dr. Kristin Otto

You Got Kitty Bombed!

Below find the third of a series of guest posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Reflecting here on an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact is Mary S. Linn, Curator of Cultural and Linguistic Revitalization at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She served previously as Curator of Native American Languages at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson


 Dan Swan showing exhibited Hello Kitty beadwork to Julie Droke, Sam Noble Museum, November 24, 2019. Photo by Mary Linn.

You Got Kitty Bombed!

by Mary Linn

What does one write about when considering Daniel C. Swan’s eminent career and imminent retirement?  Why, Hello Kitty, of course.

Dan hadn’t been at the Sam Noble Museum as Curator of Ethnology very long when a group of us women in the anthropology ‘pod’ went out to lunch. A normal day. Next door to the chosen restaurant was a comic book store, and as we passed the window after eating, I exclaimed, “Oh, they have Hello Kitty – I love Hello Kitty! Did you know that most consumers of Hello Kitty are professional women over 30?”[1] We piled in and came out with matching Hello Kitty pinky rings and with Grrrl Power.

Back at work, we enthusiastically showed off our rings and assorted Hello Kitty office supplies to Dan, who rolled his eyes. He would quickly retreat to his office when we greeted each other with ‘Hello, Kitty!’ in the mornings or showed off new Hello Kitty additions (such as Hello Kitty walkie-talkies, our analog version of messaging across offices). That could have been the end of it, or at least Dan’s part in the story, had Olivia Sammons (my graduate research assistant at the time) not gotten a Hello Kitty coloring book and stickers, had I not a penchant for practical jokes, and if Julie Droke (the registrar) had not had the keys to his office. So, we Kitty-Bombed his office, putting  Hello Kitty sticky notes and stickers on his computer and book cases, and adding Hello Kitty pictures in books and files.  Apparently, he was still finding Hello Kitty when he moved his office years later. I am sure some grad student in the future will be amazed at his fortune of inheriting an antique anthropology book with the name Daniel C. Swan inside, and then wonder why there is a picture of Hello Kitty in a tutu stuck in the pages.

How did Dan react? He took it in stride and laughingly admitted defeat for the current round of jokes, and there were many times he would laugh at himself with us over the years.


Real Men Read Real Books, part of a humorous series on Dan and his tribulations with born digital content, created by Olivia Sammons ca. 2010.

And – and this is important here – he embraced Hello Kitty and the Grrrl Power around him. He became an honorary ‘Kitty’ and was/is totally comfortable with his membership in this group.  No, he wouldn’t wear the pinky ring, but he started noticing what we were saying with Hello Kitty and noticing Hello Kitty in the world, especially in the beadwork adorning Powwow regalia.  A few years later, I found myself the recipient of a beaded Hello Kitty lanyard with my museum badge given to me from Dan. This lanyard now proudly holds my Smithsonian id, and Hello Kitty regularly rides the metro, attends meetings with the European presidents and multi-millionaire donors, and dances at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. It is art, it is Grrrl Power, and it represents my history and friendships in Oklahoma. A funny thing: no man has ever asked me about it. Only women.

That Dan was able to embrace Hello Kitty in our pod is telling of his openness to seeing the world in new ways.  He enthusiastically devours new artistic expressions in Indian Country, and delights in discovering the new in the old and the old in the new. His additions of airbrushed Peyote boxes, youth skateboard art, and beadwork of angry bird, athletic teams, and portraits of popular culture icons, to name only a few of his focused collecting at all the museums he has worked at, have significantly changed the anthropological record and conversations. He listens to the artists, the artisans, the practitioners, the youth, the elders, the cooks, the dancers, the vets… I can go on, but you get the point. He listens and lets them talk through their record.

More importantly, his support of our Grrrl Power shows how Dan has never shied away from what makes him uncomfortable. He examines himself and simply tries to do better the next day. And that, my Kitty Friends, is something that we all need more of today.


Hello Retirement – you got Kitty-Bombed, from Mary, Julie, and Olivia.


1. Please don’t ask me to cite this.  I had probably heard it on NPR, but that was a long time ago. Wherever I heard or read it, it impressed me enough to stick in my mind.

Lessons of Accountability

Below find the second of a series of guest posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Reflecting here on an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact is heather ahtone, senior curator at the First Americans Museum. She served previously as James T. Bialac Curator of Native American and Non-Western Art at the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson

Lessons of Accountability

by heather ahtone

As a young professional in 2012, Dan Swan was one of the first in the museum community who helped me feel like a professional. That may seem redundant, how does one not feel like a professional if one is? But I think that for many Native folks coming into the museum field, like myself, it is common to feel like an imposter. I came to my professional field as a matter of accidents and curiosity, with few mentors in the actual field. I didn’t have a cadre of Native folks to help me navigate the museum field’s history of colonialism, authoritarianism, and dismissal of Indigenous agency. Stepping into an institution as the only Person of Color at a level with some capacity for bringing an Indigenous presence into the conversation, I felt a significant amount of pressure. Those pressures were purely internally driven. I could have gone with the flow. But it was clear to me that I had a level of accountability. It would never be imposed by the institution but would always be present for me as a lone representative as I assumed responsibilities curating the collections representing all the brown folks (my position was as curator of Native American and Non-Western arts).

The first part of the lesson of accountability Dan taught was mutual respect. It was a hard lesson emotionally. I wanted to earn a doctoral degree and needed a committee member. I asked Dan to join my committee. He declined. In the most Dan-like way, he declined by expressing that as a respected colleague it was inappropriate for him to be in a position of power over my scholarly work. I can only say that I was broken-hearted by his decision. But I was humbled by his acknowledgment of me as an equal (of sorts – he will always be someone I look up to!). His expression of respect gave me a courage that became a driving force in my work. It made me see that I also had responsibilities as an equal to him–not as a measure of myself, but as a measure of all the goodness he has done for our Native community. That courage was needed to serve the Native folks who were not standing in those meeting rooms, sitting at the table, and having a voice (quivering as I often felt). His respect held me up on many days.

The second part of the lesson of accountability was service. As I assumed the responsibilities and provided leadership in my curatorial position, I pushed myself and the institution to meet the accountability I felt on behalf of the Indigenous community. This appeared to me as service, until the museum field response became an unquenchable demand for more. More work. More writing. More of my voice to fill the silence of Indigenous invisibility. And this was how I learned about my real service to the field. I witnessed Dan creating opportunities for his students, for his peers, and for me. I realized that my true service to the field would not come from the “doing.” Service would come from putting others forward and nurturing a broad voice from the community, not just my voice. He taught by example that the work could never be for myself, but always to serve the community. He wasn’t the only one teaching me this point, I have to acknowledge that I needed two teachers for this particular lesson, Dr. Gregory Cajete was the other. Between the two, I found that truly serving the community was found in nurturing a broader body of servants to our Native community.

The final part of the lesson of accountability was in speaking the truth. Dan has been a champion for my projects for a long while. During one project, fairly early in my curating path, Dan used my work as a teaching tool for his students. He was openly proud of the project, and I appreciated that. It was during a class visit with his students after visiting the exhibition that we discussed openly the successes and failures of the project. The successes were fairly public and I had more practice speaking to these. In conversation in front of his students, Dan asked questions about the failures. This was a challenge to me in the moment. I had less practice speaking to my failures openly. I’m not sure if I spoke the whole truth in that moment, I am sure I was incredibly uncomfortable. But the discomfort with the questions exposed to me that this was where the real learning rests. That when we can honestly assess our failures, we lay a path to confront them and genuinely improve our practice. I have since incorporated my failures with my successes as a part of my public speaking practice. The response to the failures has never ceased to be one of people embracing that truth as “refreshing” and as a moment of strength. My grandmother’s lessons on honesty laid a foundation that Dan’s lesson on truth have fortified.

With all that said, I have learned so many more lessons from Dan. I will always be grateful for his kindness, generosity, and support. He has never let me take the easy path. Our conversations are a source of personal joy and intellectual growth. I believe I will be learning from him for years to come. And if I have listened to what he taught well, I will be able to pass those lessons along to another generation for even more.

God bless you, friend, enjoy all the beauty that the world has to offer.


An in-process photograph of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City. FAM is slated to open in Spring 2021. FAM press photograph via




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