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Posts from the ‘Seminole’ Category

Coconut Rattles in Florida and Oklahoma

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.)

Yesterday was a Patchwork Day

I was not able to put together a post last night, so here is just one of the couple hundred pictures I shot yesterday. This one is another array of Florida Seminole patchwork samples. These were all collected in 1969 and are by the same seamstress. As with the other objects that I am looking at, they are destined for the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

On the Study of Shreds and Patches

Yesterday my work with the William C. Sturtevant collection focused on the material culture side of his efforts to document the history, practice, and significance of the unique Florida Seminole art form known as “patchwork.” Basically, I organized and quickly looked at a couple of hundred patchwork samples such as those arrayed in the image presented here.

I have done little work yet with documents, but a large folder of notes associated with Dr. Sturtevant’s patchwork studies were handy and I took a quick peak. There is a lot there. I hold off on talking about that and describe a single note that is very relevant to this website.

For its early years, this website was just associated with my name. A while back though, it started to seem clear (to me, at least) that it needed a more blog-like name. The name the I chose was Shreds and Patches. I should have explained the source of this name at the time, but didn’t. It was a soft re-launch, I guess. Anyway, the first thing that my eye fell on when peaking into Dr. Sturtevant’s patchwork notes folder was a single slip of paper that explains the source of my name.

It is a medium sized slip of paper in his own hand and it is a quotation–the very quotation from which the title of this blog comes. The source is a famous, oft debated passage from the conclusion of a book by Robert Lowie. I have not gone back to the source to check Sturtevant’s note, but here it is as he has it.

“Nor are the facts of culture history without bearing on the judgement of our own future. To that planless hodgepodge, that thing of shreds and patches called civilization, its historian can no longer yield superstitious reverence. He will realize better than others the obstacles to infusing design into the amorphous product; but in thought at least he will not grovel before it in fatalistic acquiescence but dream of a rational scheme to supplant the chaotic jumble.”–p 441 (concluding paragraph of Lowie’s Primitive Society (1947, N.Y., Liveright; 1st ed. 1920; on pp ix-x of the new preface to the ’47 ed, RHL [Lowie] complains that this famous passage has been misinterpreted)

Lowie was one of Bill Sturtevant’s undergraduate teachers at Berkeley. I can talk some other time about the significance and history of this passage from Lowie. Here it is interesting to think what it is doing in Bill’s patchwork notes. Two possibilities have occurred to me.

If he meant it to be there, it was clever because it suggested that he was going to draw upon anthropology’s most famous theoretical discussion of “patches” in his empirical project on patches (of the Seminole sort). Alternatively, and amusingly, it could have been filed in this place by someone else because a quick scan of the text could suggest that because it is about patches it needed to go with the patchwork notes. I’ll get to the bottom of it someday, perhaps. In any case, it provides the answer to the question of why I named the blog as I did. (Lowie was not the original source of the phrase Shreds and Patches, just the one who gave it anthropological resonance in theorizing the nature of culture and so-called “civilization.”

Note.  The patchwork samples shown above are not yet numbered, but they are part of the William C. Sturtevant Collection at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

Pot Holders, Or William C. Sturtevant Collections Research, Day 1

I am in Washington at the start of a period of research studying the collection of objects gathered over much of the career of Smithsonian anthropologist William C. Sturtevant (1927-2007). (For background on W.C.S., see this biographical sketch that I posted to the Museum Anthropology weblog and this Washington Post obituary by WP staff writer Louie Estrada.)

While Dr. Sturtevant was long associated with the Smithsonian, his individual research collection grew and grew over the course of his career and was not accessioned into the holdings of the National Museum of Natural History until after his death in 2007. My work with the objects is an extension of the Southeastern Native American Collections Project (SNACP), but it also aims to assist the museum in the work of organizing and cataloging the Sturtevant Collection.

Today was mainly a get organized day, but I can share a glimpse of the objects that was looking at.

Dr. Sturteveant worked throughout his career on issues in Florida Seminole ethnography, linguistics, ethnology, and ethnohistory. He was always particularly interested in material culture and he went to considerable lengths to document the rich visual and material culture of the Seminole people living in my home state. (I first met Dr. Sturtevant while still an undergraduate when he attended a conference on Seminole folk art not far from my family home.)

It will take a very long time to sort out the details, but I began (metaphorically) unraveling the threads of his collection and its history with initial study of eight relatively simple objects–patchwork decorated pot holders made for sale to non-Seminole tourists by Seminole women during in the 1980s. In addition to their aesthetic richness and visual interest, such objects speak to the complex ways that the Seminole people have adapted to life in one of the most complex corners of North America. The Seminole engagement with tourism began in the early 20th century, it continued through the period represented by these pot holders, and it continues up to the present-era, in which the Seminole Tribe of Florida is the force behind a myriad of tourist destinations, including the global Hard Rock cafe and casino enterprise.

For four of the eight pot holders that I looked at today, I already know the name of the artist. A few of the as-yet artist-unidentified objects are pictured below. All objects are from the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History. I especially thank the department’s staff for hosting my research visit. Photographs shown here are my own quick and simple iPhone snapshots. (Better photographs can come later.)

Sturtevant Collection T162

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

(Above) Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole, Sturtevant Collection T162, Department of Anthropology, National Musuem of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

(Above) Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole, Sturtevant Collection T111A, Department of Anthropology, National Musuem of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

(Above) Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole, Sturtevant Collection T111B, Department of Anthropology, National Musuem of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

(Above) Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole, Sturtevant Collection T111C, Department of Anthropology, National Musuem of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson

I have a lot of data management work to accomplish before tomorrow, but I could not resist sharing this glimpse.

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