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Hood Museum exhibits American Indian artifacts and their history

Posted 11/30/03

After the civil war and into the early 20th century, the intense interest of art collectors and tourists drove a market for anything American Indian, even while settlers and the U.S. army drove native peoples off their land. This contradictory period is chronicled in the Hood Museum of Art's newest installation, Survival/Art/History: American Indian Collections from the Hood Museum of Art, in the Gutman Gallery.

From the late 18th to the mid-19th centuries, the indigenous peoples of the Americas suffered deeply from the effects of disease, war, land loss, and culture loss, aggravated further by the enforcement of official U.S. policies of civilization, assimilation and removal.

As the 19th century wore on, missionaries, government agents, soldiers and school officials took away native ceremonial clothing, drums and religious objects and suppressed or banned outright entire "pagan" dances and ceremonies and the speaking of native languages.

Yet the eastern tourists, tourism industry developers, artists, arts patrons, scholars and collectors who flooded into the West and Southwest insisted upon experiencing those very things. They "discovered," valued, bought, traded or simply took native objects as trophies for their own collections and for the newly formed American museums. Some Indians-and the works they made-were in this way literally "loved to death." Many produced an enormous amount of work-from pottery to painting to basketry to beadwork-that was honored and studied by scholars, shown in popular exhibitions in London, New York, and Paris, and gobbled up by collectors, tourists, and artifact dealers and traders.

Native peoples thus learned to live within the contradictions of a world that removed, exiled, dispossessed, and disenfranchised "real" Indians while coveting and lionizing their material and spiritual culture.

Thousands of old and new Indian-made objects now reside in museums like the Hood Museum of Art, where they testify to the values and motives of those collectors who both hated and loved Indians. They also testify to the ways in which native peoples evolved the things essential to their physical and spiritual survival, as well as to the ways in which those things embody their religious, political, and social universes.

Finally, these objects also bear witness to the creative strategies Indians employed in order to live through several centuries of hate and love for their lives, their lands and their cultures. These objects reveal what it took-the magic, the prayers, the disguises, the laughter, the creativity-for native people to preserve the old ways while figuring out a new means of living.

Valued in this small exhibition for the stories that lie beneath the surface, these objects represent a glimpse of the art history of native survival.

Survival/Art/History: American Indian Collections from the Hood Museum of Art was selected by Rayna Green, Director of the American Indian Program at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution and has been made possible by the William B. Jaffe and Evelyn A.J. Hall Fund.

The museum is free and open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, 10 to 5 (Wednesday to 9 p.m.), and Sunday, 12 to 5.

For more information on this installation or other exhibitions and programs, please call the museum at 646-2426, or visit our Web site.

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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