Americans: Major New Exhibition Asks, Why Do Images of American Indians Permeate American Life?
LAND O’LAKES BUTTER BOX, 2016

 

LAND O’LAKES BUTTER BOX, 2016. NMAI EP1094: The most famous Indian maiden of all time kneels among green meadows and blue lakes. She wears buckskin and beads, and her feathers are red, white and blue. She holds a box of Land O’Lakes butter, meaning that she holds an image of herself holding the box. This repeats into infinity. Created by Arthur C. Hanson, the logo was updated in the 1950s by Patrick DesJarlait, a member of the Red Lake Ojibwe tribe.

 

LAND O’LAKES BUTTER BOX, 2016. NMAI EP1094: The most famous Indian maiden of all time kneels among green meadows and blue lakes. She wears buckskin and beads, and her feathers are red, white and blue. She holds a box of Land O’Lakes butter, meaning that she holds an image of herself holding the box. This repeats into infinity. Created by Arthur C. Hanson, the logo was updated in the 1950s by Patrick DesJarlait, a member of the Red Lake Ojibwe tribe.

HI YU APPLES CRATE LABEL, 1940s.

HI YU APPLES CRATE LABEL, 1940s. ORIGINAL LABEL PART OF A PRIVATE COLLECTION: Before they were replaced by cardboard boxes in the 1960s, wooden boxes bearing colorful designs were used to ship fruit and vegetables. Often the labels featured Native American motifs. Hi Yu was the name of a brand of apples shipped from Wenatchee, Wash. The Chinooklanguage words mean abundance.

HI YU APPLES CRATE LABEL, 1940s. ORIGINAL LABEL PART OF A PRIVATE COLLECTION: Before they were replaced by cardboard boxes in the 1960s, wooden boxes bearing colorful designs were used to ship fruit and vegetables. Often the labels featured Native American motifs. Hi Yu was the name of a brand of apples shipped from Wenatchee, Wash. The Chinooklanguage words mean abundance.

NATIVE AMERICAN BARBIE DOLL, 1994.

NATIVE AMERICAN BARBIE DOLL, 1994. NMAI EP1056: Barbie has been criticized for not appearing to look like any real women, so why should the Native American versions be any different? In the 1994 model, we see in one doll all the materials and imagery associated with American Indians: braids, beads, feathers, fringe, buckskin and – silver hair cuffs?

NATIVE AMERICAN BARBIE DOLL, 1994. NMAI EP1056: Barbie has been criticized for not appearing to look like any real women, so why should the Native American versions be any different? In the 1994 model, we see in one doll all the materials and imagery associated with American Indians: braids, beads, feathers, fringe, buckskin and – silver hair cuffs?

NATIVE AMERICAN BARBIE DOLL, 1994.

NATIVE AMERICAN BARBIE DOLL, 1994. NMAI EP1056: Barbie has been criticized for not appearing to look like any real women, so why should the Native American versions be any different? In the 1994 model, we see in one doll all the materials and imagery associated with American Indians: braids, beads, feathers, fringe, buckskin and – silver hair cuffs?

NATIVE AMERICAN BARBIE DOLL, 1994. NMAI EP1056: Barbie has been criticized for not appearing to look like any real women, so why should the Native American versions be any different? In the 1994 model, we see in one doll all the materials and imagery associated with American Indians: braids, beads, feathers, fringe, buckskin and – silver hair cuffs?

LIBERTY TRIUMPHANT, OR THE DOWNFALL OF OPPRESSION, 1774

LIBERTY TRIUMPHANT, OR THE DOWNFALL OF OPPRESSION, 1774. ATTRIBUTED TO HENRY DAWKINS. JOHN CARTER BROWN LIBRARY

LIBERTY TRIUMPHANT, OR THE DOWNFALL OF OPPRESSION, 1774. ATTRIBUTED TO HENRY DAWKINS. JOHN CARTER BROWN LIBRARY

TO PEACE AND COMMERCE DIPLOMATIC MEDAL, 1792.

 

TO PEACE AND COMMERCE DIPLOMATIC MEDAL, 1792. AUGUSTIN DUPRE. COLLECTION OF BENJAMIN WEISS: The Indian queen on this 1792 diplomatic medal is an allegory of America. She wears a feather headdress, quiver and feathered skirt. The classical proportions of her face and pose complement those of Mercury (right), the Roman god of science and commerce.

 

TO PEACE AND COMMERCE DIPLOMATIC MEDAL, 1792. AUGUSTIN DUPRE. COLLECTION OF BENJAMIN WEISS: The Indian queen on this 1792 diplomatic medal is an allegory of America. She wears a feather headdress, quiver and feathered skirt. The classical proportions of her face and pose complement those of Mercury (right), the Roman god of science and commerce.

AMERICAN INDIAN POSTAGE STAMP, 1923

AMERICAN INDIAN POSTAGE STAMP, 1923 NATIONAL POSTAL MUSEUM, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION. Although labeled generically American Indian, this stamp features the well-known Lakota political leader Hollow Horn Bear. He fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, became a spokesman for his people and rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905. The Apache leader Geronimo was also in that parade. He was an enemy of the state until he wasn’t.

AMERICAN INDIAN POSTAGE STAMP, 1923 NATIONAL POSTAL MUSEUM, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION. Although labeled generically American Indian, this stamp features the well-known Lakota political leader Hollow Horn Bear. He fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, became a spokesman for his people and rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905. The Apache leader Geronimo was also in that parade. He was an enemy of the state until he wasn’t.

TOMAHAWK FLIGHT-TEST MISSILE, 1976.

TOMAHAWK FLIGHT-TEST MISSILE, 1976. SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM A19820119000

TOMAHAWK FLIGHT-TEST MISSILE, 1976. SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM A19820119000

WORLD WAR I LAFAYETTE ESCADRILLE INDIAN HEAD INSIGNIA, 1917. SMITHSONIAN NATIONA

WORLD WAR I LAFAYETTE ESCADRILLE INDIAN HEAD INSIGNIA, 1917. SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM A19630014000

WORLD WAR I LAFAYETTE ESCADRILLE INDIAN HEAD INSIGNIA, 1917. SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM A19630014000

Robert Soubiran stands beside a Nieuport Type 17 pursuit plane, ca. 1917

Robert Soubiran stands beside a Nieuport Type 17 pursuit plane, ca. 1917. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, NASM 00175805

Robert Soubiran stands beside a Nieuport Type 17 pursuit plane, ca. 1917. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, NASM 00175805

PONTIAC CHIEFTAIN HOOD ORNAMENT, 1951.

PONTIAC CHIEFTAIN HOOD ORNAMENT, 1951. Pontiac was an Ottawa war chief who defeated the British in the 1760s. The city near Detroit is named for him, as was the General Motors brand of cars, which featured a hood ornament in the form of an Indian-head profile. During the 1950s its design was meant to suggest jet planes and rockets. The last Pontiac rolled off the assembly line in 2010.

PONTIAC CHIEFTAIN HOOD ORNAMENT, 1951. Pontiac was an Ottawa war chief who defeated the British in the 1760s. The city near Detroit is named for him, as was the General Motors brand of cars, which featured a hood ornament in the form of an Indian-head profile. During the 1950s its design was meant to suggest jet planes and rockets. The last Pontiac rolled off the assembly line in 2010.

SEQUOYAH, 2013. WASHINGTON GLASS STUDIO AND FIREART GLASS

 

SEQUOYAH, 2013. WASHINGTON GLASS STUDIO AND FIREART GLASS: The west entrance doors to the Library of Congress’s John Adams Building in Washington, D.C., pay homage to the history of the written word. The center set of doors includes a figure of Sequoyah (ca. 1770–1843), a Cherokee silversmith who is the only person ever known to have single-handedly devised a written language without first being literate in a language.

 

SEQUOYAH, 2013. WASHINGTON GLASS STUDIO AND FIREART GLASS: The west entrance doors to the Library of Congress’s John Adams Building in Washington, D.C., pay homage to the history of the written word. The center set of doors includes a figure of Sequoyah (ca. 1770–1843), a Cherokee silversmith who is the only person ever known to have single-handedly devised a written language without first being literate in a language.

THANKSGIVING POSTCARD, CA. 1912. NMAI EP1152

 

THANKSGIVING POSTCARD, CA. 1912. NMAI EP1152 This postcard depicts a woman in quasi-American Indian attire offering a turkey to a Pilgrim woman for, presumably, the first Thanksgiving meal that will be shared between American Indians and Pilgrims. The Indians with whom the Pilgrims feasted in 1621 were the Wampanoag. Although the event really did occur, it was forgotten for about 200 years. The annual reenactment of that Thanksgiving speaks to the shared history of Americans and American Indians

 

THANKSGIVING POSTCARD, CA. 1912. NMAI EP1152 This postcard depicts a woman in quasi-American Indian attire offering a turkey to a Pilgrim woman for, presumably, the first Thanksgiving meal that will be shared between American Indians and Pilgrims. The Indians with whom the Pilgrims feasted in 1621 were the Wampanoag. Although the event really did occur, it was forgotten for about 200 years. The annual reenactment of that Thanksgiving speaks to the shared history of Americans and American Indians

COLLIER’S MAGAZINE COVER, 1907 LIBRARY OF CONGRESS J.C.

 

COLLIER’S MAGAZINE COVER, 1907 LIBRARY OF CONGRESS J.C.: Leyendecker painted more than 400 magazine covers in the course of his 54-year career. For the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown he brought us America’s first cover girl – Pocahontas.

 

COLLIER’S MAGAZINE COVER, 1907 LIBRARY OF CONGRESS J.C.: Leyendecker painted more than 400 magazine covers in the course of his 54-year career. For the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown he brought us America’s first cover girl – Pocahontas.

BIG CHIEF WRITING TABLET, CA. 1995. GIFT OF LAWRENCE BACA, 2015.

 

BIG CHIEF WRITING TABLET, CA. 1995. GIFT OF LAWRENCE BACA, 2015. NMAI 26/9948: Used by schoolchildren, poets, novelists and other scribblers of all kinds, the Big Chief tablet was the most popular American writing tablet during most of the 20th century. Although production ended in 2001, it resumed after 2012, and the tablet is still going strong.

 

BIG CHIEF WRITING TABLET, CA. 1995. GIFT OF LAWRENCE BACA, 2015. NMAI 26/9948: Used by schoolchildren, poets, novelists and other scribblers of all kinds, the Big Chief tablet was the most popular American writing tablet during most of the 20th century. Although production ended in 2001, it resumed after 2012, and the tablet is still going strong.

Within the Americans exhibition, Indians Everywhere provides a starting point for exploring four foundational events in U.S. history: the life of Pocahontas, Thanksgiving, the Trail of Tears and the Battle of Little Bighorn. Americans shows how each of these events has affected and shaped America’s national consciousness and Americans’ lives.

The exhibition’s title is a play on words. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the first definition provided for “American” is “An indigenous inhabitant of (any part of) the Americas; an American Indian.” This usage was common until the early 19th century. As visitors move through Americans, from the imagery of the Indians Everywhere gallery to the galleries featuring the four events, they will gain a greater awareness of the history Indians and non-Indians share.

We hope people will leave the Museum newly attuned to the pervasive presence of American Indian imagery in everyday life. And when people begin to notice the Indian images and names that permeate their own lives, we hope that they will see this phenomenon for what it is: one that exists in the United States more than it does in any other country, one that ultimately speaks to the fact that the United States was carved out of American Indian land, and that its history is profoundly intertwined with American Indians.

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