Art Exhibit: Indian-Euro Interaction
Associated Press Writer
SALEM, Mass. (AP) - A coat, modeled after a Russian officer's
overcoat but made from sea lion intestines and esophagus - materials
traditionally used by the Aleuts for waterproof clothes - hangs in
one corner of the Peabody Essex Museum
In another corner, a Tlingit dancing blanket, emblazoned with the
abstract image of a killer whale, is draped on a wall. It was made
before 1832 - long before abstract art was popular or even considered
art by Europeans.
The "Uncommon Legacies" exhibition at Museum
presents early American Indian art that often was dismissed by
westerners as artifacts or everyday objects. It also displays how
tribal artists seamlessly incorporated outside cultural influences
into their work.
"This showcases the interaction between Native American art and the
artists, their cultures and the West," said museum director Dan
Monroe, who has long studied American Indian cultures. "We hope this
will help people see how esthetically rich and complex Native
American art is and how their work is embodied in their culture and
The Peabody Essex, which reopened in June after a $125 million
renovation, boasts many of the country's oldest American Indian works
dating to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Monroe said.
"Legacies" which has returned to Salem after being displayed at
Stanford University, the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Virginia
Museum of Fine Arts, will run through Dec. 14. After that, the
exhibits will be incorporated into the museum's Native American Art
The exhibition includes works made as early as 1750 and brought back
to Salem by mariners, the military and missionaries from around the
world. The colors are still vibrant centuries after they were created - like
the bright red beaded collar from Maine's Penobscot tribe and the
feathered headdresses from Brazil with hues of yellow, orange and
blue. The red collar with white bead embroidery made in the mid-19th
century shows how traded goods from white America - beads, wool and
silk - made its way into tribal culture and life, said Karen Kramer,
an assistant curator for the exhibit.
Other objects, including the Aleut coat designed like a Russian
officer's jacket, a Haida ship panel pipe adorned with small carvings
of colonial houses, and trays decorated with woven porcupine quills
but suited to Victorian tastes, demonstrate how tribal artists
incorporated Euro-American motifs and catered to tourists and
Two ceremonial sashes with intricate bead designs are remnants of an
infamous passage in American Indian history. These emblems of Choctaw
identity were used at a time when thousands of Choctaws, Seminoles,
Cherokees and others were forced to walk the "Trail of Tears" to
Oklahoma in the early 19th century.
Even everyday objects display intricate carvings and craftsmanship,
showing the importance that American Indians placed on them.
A halibut hook, probably from the Tlingit tribe of the Pacific
Northwest, has a carving of a sea creature. Hunters and fishermen
would often use tools with carvings of the creature they were
hunting, to tap into the strength of their prey, Kramer said.
"It's a pretty intricate carving for something that a fish is just
going to chomp," Kramer said. "You might never get it back, yet they
took such care to embody the animal's spirit into their hunting
Betty Dyer, 75, of Marblehead, was amazed at the bead and quill
weavings and handiwork as she walked through the exhibit.
"Some of these are really exquisite. Many people don't even realize
such things exist," Dyer added "But it is our country. Our heritage."