A Splendid Heritage

Splendid Heritage: Perspectives on American Indian Art, is the new show at the Missouri History Museum. The show opened last Saturday and is scheduled to remain open through April 24th. Normally, tickets are $8, but Anne and I went on Tuesday night, when the show is free to city and county residents. The exhibit was produced by the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. It shows objects from the Warnock Collection. The preceding photographs are of select items in the exhibit. The following burb is the museum’s description of the exhibit.

Splendid Heritage: Perspectives on American Indian Art, an extraordinary exhibition from the John and Marva Warnock Collection, will present 149 objects of unique artistry and powerful cultural expression from the Native people of the Plains, Plateau and Northeast. Museums historically interpret this type of material by emphasizing either the cultural context or fine arts context. Splendid Heritage, however, examines the objects from both perspectives – the intersection of culture and art – to uncover a richer narrative about the material and enhance the viewer’s understanding.

Over a dozen nations are represented in this show. They range from New England, through the Great Lakes, and the Northern Plains to the Mountain West. Objects presented in this show include clothing and accessories, weapons and other cultural items, for example pipes.

The following bulleted descriptions come from the exhibit’s placards. They describe the six items pictured with this post. In the exhibit each artifact is described from both a cultural and artistic context. This dichotomy strikes a balance between what we the observer see and what the object’s creator felt.

  • Culture – Cowrie shells such as those on the bodice of this Cheyenne girl’s dress originated in the Indian and South Pacific Oceans. They arrived on the Plains via the ancient intercontinental trade network. Long after manufactured trade goods were available, seashells remained popular clothing decorations.
  • Culture – During the 1700s, Usuline nuns and other religious orders of Lorette, near present-day Quebec, taught Huron girls to embroider using European techniques. By the early 1800s, Huron Artists at Lorette were producing large numbers of moccasins with floral embroidery in dyed moose hair for sale to tourists.
  • Art – The combination of the eye-popping blue quillwork and bright red moose hair embroidery gives this pouch a high level of brilliance and visual energy. As with many other American Indian objects, a fringe of tin cones added an auditory element.
  • Culture – Respected men of the Eastern Plans wore bear claw necklaces made from the long broad claws of grizzly bears that once roamed the Southern and Eastern Plain. Plains Indian men held grizzly bears in high esteem because of their strength, power, and fighting abilities – qualities universally admired by Native warriors.
  • Art – This drawing [only a small portion of the complete work is shown] was made in 1910 by a man known as Jaw, who was born in 1850 to a Hunkpapa mother and a Sans Arc father. The design is consistent with Plains Indian iconography: it fills the entire field without reference to any physical location, as if depicting some other-worldly sphere.
  • Art – In this toy cradle and doll, the subtle graduation of deep colors is dominated by the use of pale blue beads for the hourglass figure which cause the dark colors on either side to appear to recede.

The entire exhibit was open to non-flash photography, save for one item. That item was a Ghost Dancer’s robe. This small reverence for another people’s spirituality endeared the Warnocks and their curators to me more than any of the fancy words on this show’s placards ever could. Splendid Heritage is a splendid show and I highly recommend it.

Anne is always urging me to use teachable moments to encourage comments. So here goes, how do you collect porcupine quills without getting hurt? I’ll add a hint, do it without injuring the porcupine, although it will still be rather pissed-off.

5 thoughts on “A Splendid Heritage

  1. J. and S., those are both good answers. However the sign at the exhibit said that the Native Americans would throw a blanket over the porcupine. When it raised its quills in defense, the quills would stick in the blanket, and could be recovered more safely. The sign did not indicate whether the porcupine was released to live a full and porcupinely life, or whether they invited it to dinner.


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