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1700-1900: learning resources

John Singleton Copley, Paul Revere

John Singleton Copley, Paul Revere, 1768, oil on canvas, 89.22 x 72.39 cm (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
John Singleton Copley, Paul Revere, 1768, oil on canvas, 89.22 x 72.39 cm (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

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Becoming a city: daily life in 1820, Brooklyn

Francis Guy, Winter Scene in Brooklyn, 1820, oil on canvas, 147.3 x 260.2 cm (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art).
Francis Guy, Winter Scene in Brooklyn, 1820, oil on canvas, 147.3 x 260.2 cm (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art).

Key points

  • While this painting looks spontaneous and like it is capturing a frozen moment, it is a composite of views from the artist’s studio windows. It does however give an accurate image of this location. Francis Guy has taken pains to carefully render the buildings, and they would have been identifiable to people who knew this part of Brooklyn.
  • The scene shows the physical specifics of the neighborhood but also its social hierarchy. We see the fancy houses and shops of those higher on the social scale, and a carpenter speaking with a man who wears a fur coat and is obviously well-fed. There are also figures caring for farm animals and possibly enslaved African-American men who are sawing wood and selling coal.
  • As a further indication of social hierarchy, Guy identified all of the white figures in his painting, but not any of the African-American ones. He also includes a comic scene at the expense of one African-American man who has slipped on the icy ground. This kind of making fun of African-Americans was also found in the literature and theater of the time.
  • Guy has also placed himself in the painting, walking in the foreground with a painting under his arm. His attention to detail, social situations, and the broad expanse of the sky harken to the Dutch landscape and genre painting traditions, a reminder that Brooklyn was originally a Dutch colony.

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More to think about

Francis Guy’s representation of the people of Brooklyn — from the elites and lower classes, whites and African Americans — shows us specific stereotypes that shaped and were shaped by the way society thought about these groups. What media examples can you think of from modern life that present similar kinds of social stereotypes? What media have the most influence, and how might they be used for positive change?

Hicks’s The Peaceable Kingdom as Pennsylvania parable

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, 1826, oil on canvas, 83.5 x 106 cm (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, 1826, oil on canvas, 83.5 x 106 cm (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Key points

  • William Penn was granted land by King Charles II in 1682 to found a colony in present-day Pennsylvania. As a Quaker, he had been persecuted in England, so Penn’s goal was to create a place of religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence. Philadelphia quickly became a community of many different peoples and faiths.
  • Led by his religious convictions, William Penn sought to deal fairly with the Lenape people who lived in the region. When he added land to the colonial settlement, he compensated the Lenape. However, his son, Thomas Penn, later unfairly claimed more land than agreed on in the terms of the 1737 Walking Treaty.
  • Edward Hicks was both a preacher and painter. According to his Quaker principles, fine art was frowned upon as a luxury, so Hicks specialized in utilitarian sign paintings and gave away works like Peaceable Kingdom. His style reflects this commercial influence, drawing heavily from graphic arts and lettering to create scenes that were easily understandable. He combined this with references from popular art (including a widely circulated biblical illustration) and fine art (specifically here, a painting by Benjamin West).
  • In his Peaceable Kingdom series of over 60 images, Hicks depicts a visionary scene of peace on earth that extends back to include William Penn and the founding of Pennsylvania.

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More to think about

Compare Hicks’s work to Benjamin West’s painting of William Penn's Treaty with the Indians when he founded the Province of Pennsylvania in North America as primary source documents about the historical founding of Pennsylvania. What ideas are reinforced through each artist’s perspective? What is left out? What questions might remain about these historical events?

Catlin, The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas

George Catlin, The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas, 1844-45, oil on canvas, 71 x 58 cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington)
George Catlin, The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas, 1844-45, oil on canvas, 71 x 58 cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

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Two sides of Lakota life on a beaded suitcase

Nellie Two Bear Gates, Suitcase, 1880-1910, beads, hide, metal, oilcloth, thread (Minneapolis Institute of Art)
Nellie Two Bear Gates, Suitcase, 1880-1910, beads, hide, metal, oilcloth, thread (Minneapolis Institute of Art)

Key points

  • The Lakota had a nomadic lifestyle, made possible by horses, which Spanish colonists had brought to North America in the 16th century. In the 19th century, the US government cut off their food supply by decimating the buffalo population, and then confined the Lakota to small reservations where they relied on cattle, as shown on this suitcase from the late 19th or early 20th century.
  • Nellie Two Bear Gates adorns this suitcase with detailed beaded imagery, blending the Lakota’s traditional beliefs about marriage and family with modern life on a reservation in the early 20th century. To these, she adds geometric abstractions and the name of the recipient of this gift, making it both a commemorative and useful object.
  • Although Gates uses glass beads, introduced to Plains Indians in the 17th or 18th century, her technique is based on quillwork Lakota women historically used to decorate clothing, regalia, and functional objects.

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More to think about

This object by Nellie Two Bear Gates reflects the historical blending of cultures that has contributed to modern society in the United States. Discuss the cultural origins of different elements in this suitcase and how they reflect a synthesis of different traditions and lifestyles. What are some examples of works of art, literature, music, dance styles, or other forms of popular culture that show the complexity of our society today?

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Banjo Lesson

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Banjo Lesson, 1893, oil on canvas, 49 × 35.5 inches / 124.5 × 90.2 cm (Hampton University Museum, Hampton, VA)
Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Banjo Lesson, 1893, oil on canvas, 49 × 35.5 inches / 124.5 × 90.2 cm (Hampton University Museum, Hampton, VA)

Go deeper

Anna O. Marley, ed. _Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit (University of California Press: 2012).
Marcia M. Matthews, Henry Ossawa Tanner: American Artist_ (University of Chicago Press: 1995).
Kristin Schwain, Signs of Grace: Religion and American Art in the Gilded Age (Cornell University Press: 2007).
Judith Wilson, “Lifting “The Veil”: Henry O. Tanner’s The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor" in Contributions in Black Studies: A Journal of African and Afro-American Studies, volume 9, article 4.

Haida clan crest totem pole

Haida Totem Pole, 19th century, from Old Kasaan, Alaska (Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska)
Haida Totem Pole, 19th century, from Old Kasaan, Alaska (Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska)

Key points

  • The Indigenous peoples and nations of southeast Alaska and the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State have long practiced the art of creating and erecting totem poles. The poles are carved from the logs of giant local cedar trees and then painted. Different types of totem poles include clan crest poles, mortuary or memorial poles, potlatch poles, and shame poles (and sometimes these overlap). Each serves a different purpose in the community.
  • No matter the type, totem poles convey the history and status of the clans, or matrilineal families, that create them. For the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida, all clans are members of one of a number of moieties, or groups within their community. Each moiety is represented by an animal such as the raven, eagle or wolf, and is indicated by the carving of that animal on a totem pole. Humans, animals, and supernatural beings are also carved on poles as crests; the particular combination of crests on a pole is unique to each clan. Crests reflect the stories of the clan ancestors’ interactions with the beings depicted, and remind family members about their heritage. A clan crest pole, like this one, would have been raised in front of a clan house, visible to anyone passing by the village in a canoe. Clan crests can be included on other types of totem poles as well.
  • Totem poles reinforce the importance of oral and visual traditions among the Indigenous peoples and nations of the Pacific Northwest Coast, including the Haida. A good deal of individual clans’ history and broader cultural history was lost when European and Anglo-American newcomers, who began to arrive in the area in the 18th century, brought disease and misconceptions about the practices and traditions of the local Indigenous peoples and nations. Traders and colonizers destroyed or defaced totem poles incorrectly thought to be objects of religious worship.
  • In the early 1970s, the combined efforts of Native elders, the Alaska State Museum, the Alaska Native Brotherhood, the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Forest Service, and the City of Ketchikan brought surviving 19th-century totem poles to the Totem Heritage Center. The totem poles specifically came from former Tlingit villages on Tongass Island and Village Island and from the Haida village of Old Kasaan on Prince of Wales Island. While traditionally totem poles would be left at the spot where they were originally raised, and allowed to deteriorate so the wood would return to the earth, the poles at the Totem Heritage Center are preserved and used to teach future generations about the cultural practices of their communities.

Go deeper

Learn more about the Totem Heritage Center
Read more about totem poles from The Bill Reid Centre at Simon Fraser University

More to think about

Look closely at the carvings of the three animals on this totem pole. What is most striking to you about each representation? What does that detail suggest to you about the importance of this animal?
The notion of a clan crest being a primary means for recording the history and status of a family suggests the importance of both visual culture and oral traditions among the Indigenous nations of the Pacific Northwest Coast. What are the practices in your community or culture for representing, sharing, and preserving one’s heritage? How are they similar and how do they differ from the Native traditions of the Pacific Northwest Coast?

Haida potlatch pole

Haida potlatch pole, 19th century, from the village of Old Kasaan, exact dimensions unknown (Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska)
Haida potlatch pole, 19th century, from the village of Old Kasaan, exact dimensions unknown (Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska)

Key points

  • The Indigenous peoples and nations of southeast Alaska and the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State have long practiced the art of creating and erecting totem poles. The poles are carved from the logs of giant local cedar trees and then painted. Different types of totem poles include clan crest poles, mortuary or memorial poles, potlatch poles, and shame poles (and sometimes these overlap). Each serves a different purpose in the community.
  • No matter the type, totem poles convey the history and status of the clans, or matrilineal families, that create them. For the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida, all clans are members of one of a number of moieties, or groups within their community. Each moiety is represented by an animal such as the raven, eagle or wolf, and is indicated by the carving of that animal on a totem pole. Humans, animals, and supernatural beings are also carved on poles as crests; the particular combination of crests on a pole is unique to each clan. Crests reflect the stories of the clan ancestors’ interactions with the beings depicted, and remind family members about their heritage. Clan crests can be included on multiple types of totem poles.
  • Potlatch poles are made on the occasion of a potlatch, a multi-day gathering in celebration or recognition of major societal events, including the death of a prominent clan member. A potlatch requires a few years of preparation by the host clan. Central to the event is the act of gift-gifting from the host clan to their guests (who are of the opposite clans in the community), a demonstration of the hosting clan’s wealth in both materials and skills. It is believed that the rings on this totem pole represent the number of potlatches held by the host clan.
  • Potlatches were banned from the late 19th century through the early-to-mid 20th century in both the U.S. and Canada, as a result of European and Anglo-American newcomers’ misconceptions about the practices and traditions of the local Indigenous peoples and nations. Today, however, potlatches are once again openly held by communities in southeast Alaska and the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State.
  • The word potlatch is from the Chinook Jargon language, and has come to be used more broadly to describe ceremonial gatherings throughout the Northwest Coast region. Each group or nation, however, has its own term for these events and may prefer to use that term rather than potlatch. The Haida word is wáahlaal. The Tlingit word is ku.éex. And, the Tsimshian word is loolgit.

Go deeper

Learn more about the Totem Heritage Center
Read more about totem poles from the Bill Reid Centre at Simon Fraser University
Learn about a Haida clan crest totem pole and Tlingit mortuary and memorial poles, which are among a group of 19th-century Tlingit and Haida totem poles that were transferred to the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan in the 1970s
Read more about the history of the potlatch among the peoples and nations of the Northwest Coast region:
Richard Walker, “Northwest Coast Potlatch: Profound Ceremony and Celebration” in Native Peoples 20:6 (2007) 28-33.
Research on the Tlingit Potlatches from the Haines Sheldon Museum
The Potlatch Ban from the Bill Reid Centre at Simon Fraser University

More to think about

Potlatches reinforce values held by many of the Indigenous peoples and nations of the Northwest Coast region, including the importance of balance and reciprocity in one’s life and the broader culture. Are there events in your family, community, or culture that promote balance and reciprocity? Describe those events and any related visual or symbolic manifestations of these values. As a group, discuss your ideas about the importance of these qualities in society today. Are there other artists or artistic practices that reflect these values in ways that stand out to you?

Tlingit mortuary and memorial poles

Mortuary Pole, Tlingit origin, 19th century, from Village Island, 16 x 2 ft. (Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska); and a Bear/Killer Whale Pole (memorial pole), Tlingit origin, 19th century, Village Island, 27 x 2 ft. (Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska)
Mortuary Pole, Tlingit origin, 19th century, from Village Island, 16 x 2 ft. (Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska); and a Bear/Killer Whale Pole (memorial pole), Tlingit origin, 19th century, Village Island, 27 x 2 ft. (Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska)

Key points

  • The Indigenous peoples and nations of southeast Alaska and the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State have long practiced the art of creating and erecting totem poles. The poles are carved from the logs of giant local cedar trees, painted, and raised in front of clan houses, visible to anyone passing by a village in a canoe.
  • Totem poles convey the history and status of the clans, or matrilineal families, that create them. For the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida, all clans are members of one of a number of moieties, or groups within their community. Each moiety is represented by an animal such as the raven, eagle or wolf, and is indicated by the carving on a totem pole. Some totem poles are made on the occasion of special clan events. Memorial and mortuary poles, in particular, honor important members of the clan after their death.
  • Totem poles reinforce the importance of oral and visual traditions among the Indigenous peoples and nations of the Pacific Northwest Coast, including the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida. A good deal of individual clans’ history and broader cultural history was lost when European and Anglo-American newcomers, who began to arrive in the area in the 18th century, brought disease and misconceptions about the practices and traditions of the local Indigenous peoples and nations. Traders and colonizers destroyed or defaced totem poles incorrectly thought to be objects of religious worship.
  • In the early 1970s, the combined efforts of Native elders, the Alaska State Museum, the Alaska Native Brotherhood, the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Forest Service, and the City of Ketchikan brought surviving 19th-century totem poles to the Totem Heritage Center. The totem poles specifically came from former Tlingit villages on Tongass Island and Village Island and from the Haida village of Old Kasaan on Prince of Wales Island. While traditionally totem poles would be left at the spot where they were originally raised, and allowed to deteriorate so the wood would return to the earth, the poles at the Totem Heritage Center are preserved and used to teach future generations about the cultural practices of their communities.

Go deeper

More to think about

Reflect further about the loss of cultural and family history due to outsider impact on the lives of Native people. Based on the example of the totem poles at the Totem Heritage Center and other contexts you may know of around the world, how does a culture sustain itself when misinformation, cultural bias, and external pressure to assimilate threaten it? What is the role and evidence of Indigenous resiliency in each context? What different perspectives do you have as a class about these risks and the actions that can mitigate or prevent them?

Bentwood boxes of the Northwest Coast peoples

Three Bentwood Boxes (Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska): Bentwood box (Tlingit), 19th century, 15.69 x 15 x 19.75 inches (box), 16.94 x 16 x 4.19 inches (lid); Bentwood box (Haida), 19th century, 17.75 x 16.3 x 23.4 inches (box), Hydaburg, Alaska; Bentwood box (Haida), 19th century, 18.13 x 17.38 x 23. 65 inches (box), 19.88 x 17.88 x 4 inches (lid) Kasaan, Alaska
Three Bentwood Boxes (Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska): Bentwood box (Tlingit), 19th century, 15.69 x 15 x 19.75 inches (box), 16.94 x 16 x 4.19 inches (lid); Bentwood box (Haida), 19th century, 17.75 x 16.3 x 23.4 inches (box), Hydaburg, Alaska; Bentwood box (Haida), 19th century, 18.13 x 17.38 x 23. 65 inches (box), 19.88 x 17.88 x 4 inches (lid) Kasaan, Alaska

Key points

  • The Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian cultures of the Pacific Northwest Coast have long created storage boxes from the wood of local cedar trees. These bentwood boxes require significant time and skill to construct and are considered precious to the families that create, use, and preserve them across generations.
  • The boxes can vary in size, but are consistently made from three pieces of wood that fit snugly together: the bottom, sides, and lid. The boxes are meant to be mobile and can hold food or clan items, such as regalia, blankets, or at.óowu (something special to the clan). Designs on the boxes may include the matrilineal family’s clan crest and complement other types of embellishments such as abalone shells or copper.
  • European and Anglo-American newcomers began to arrive in the area in the 18th century, prompting substantial changes to the lives of Indigenous people and nations. Along with bringing disease and misconceptions about the practices of Native peoples, the newcomers’ presence led to increased tourism and burgeoning industries that drew heavily on local resources and provided new jobs. In this context, many Indigenous people relocated, including the move of Haida people from the village of Old Kasaan to New Kassan in the early 20th century. Families took their boxes with them when they moved.

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More to think about

What is most striking to you about the bentwood boxes? Why?
Pause the video at 2:41, 2:45, and 2:28 to look closely at the three different boxes and their designs. What similarities and differences do you observe among them?
Do you have containers in your family or culture that hold important objects? What do they look like? Who makes them and how are they made? What do they hold and why? Is there any significance to their materials or designs? Share about your traditions with others in your class.

Tlingit sovereignty and the Proud Raven ("Lincoln") Pole

Proud Raven Totem Pole of the Taantʼa kwáan Gaanax.ádi (please note: the previous k, G, and x should each include an underscore) clan of the Raven moiety, first carved in the 1880s, recarved c. 1940, Saxman Totem Park, Saxman, Alaska
Proud Raven Totem Pole of the Taantʼa kwáan Gaanax.ádi (please note: the previous k, G, and x should each include an underscore) clan of the Raven moiety, first carved in the 1880s, recarved c. 1940, Saxman Totem Park, Saxman, Alaska

Key points

  • For the Indigenous peoples and nations of southeast Alaska and the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State, totem poles convey the stories and status of the clans, or matrilineal families, that create them. All clans are members of one of a number of moieties, or groups within their community. Each moiety is represented by an animal such as the raven, eagle or wolf, and is indicated by the carving of that animal on a totem pole. Humans, animals, and supernatural beings are also carved on poles as crests; the particular combination of crests on a pole is unique to each clan. Crests reflect the stories of the clan ancestors’ interactions with the beings depicted, and remind family members about their heritage. On this clan crest pole, the raven at the base identifies the Gannax.ádi clan as part of the Raven moiety and the inclusion of the male figure at the top is a reference to the clan’s history of seeing the first white man in Tongass Tlingit territory.
  • Oral history and sovereignty are of great importance to the Indigenous peoples and nations of the Pacific Northwest Coast. For the Gannax.ádi clan, the sighting of the first white man in the area in the 18th century (likely a European or Anglo-American fur trader) is evidence of the Tlingit claim to the land—they were there before the white newcomers. Raising the original version of this totem pole on Tongass Island a century later was an important reminder of Tlingit sovereignty following the U.S.’s recent purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. The depiction of Abraham Lincoln on the pole was intended as a generic reference to the emergence of the white newcomer. For non-Native audiences, however, the inclusion of Lincoln on the pole was erroneously read as a memorial to the great leader and
    emancipator
    .
  • Saxman Totem Park was one of six parks built between 1938 and 1942 as part of the U.S. government’s
    New Deal
    labor and cultural preservation programs, specifically emerging from the 1934
    Indian Reorganization Act
    . The federal government paid Tlingit and Haida men, as members of the
    Civilian Conservation Corps
    , to repair or recreate more than one hundred 19th-century totem poles from uninhabited Native villages in Southeast Alaska. This particular pole was one of the catalysts for the entire totem pole restoration program because of the appeal of the image of Abraham Lincoln to New Deal officials who perpetrated the false story of the pole being a memorial to the former president.

Go deeper

Learn more about Saxman Totem Park
Watch the Smarthistory video about the Oyster Man Totem Pole at Saxman Totem Park
Learn more about the effort to create totem parks, including Saxman park, and the specific history of the Proud Raven pole in Emily L. Moore, Proud Raven, Panting Wolf: Carving Alaska’s New Deal totem parks (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2018)
Learn more about the New Deal projects in Saxman
Explore more of the history of the commemoration of Abraham Lincoln
Learn about a Haida clan crest totem pole and potlatch pole and Tlingit mortuary and memorial poles, which are among a group of 19th-century Tlingit and Haida totem poles that were transferred to the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan, Alaska in the 1970s
Read more about totem poles and the Northwest Coast Village Project from the Bill Reid Centre at Simon Fraser University

More to think about

While the U.S. Forest Service perpetuated the name “Lincoln Pole” for this totem, the Gannax.ádi call it the Proud Raven pole. What do the differences in these names reveal about the meaning that the pole holds for each of these two audiences?

Research project idea

Images of Abraham Lincoln elicit specific and strong associations for viewers. For white and Black Americans, his leadership during the U.S. Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved people are often the most likely connections. For Indigenous Americans, however, Lincoln is linked to his role in the displacement and massacre of Native populations in the southwest and western United States. Despite these stark differences, it is Lincoln’s identity as the great unifier or emancipator that has remained dominant over time and, like in the case of the Proud Raven totem pole, served to further obscure already marginalized histories of Indigenous peoples. Why do you think this is the case? If you were going to write a label for the Proud Raven pole at Saxman Park, how would you explain to visitors the particular role and power of the image of Abraham Lincoln without decentering the history and the meaning of the pole for the Gannax.ádi clan? To support your thinking process, explore more of the history of the commemoration of Abraham Lincoln and his legacy, and dig deeper into the history of the Proud Raven totem pole (in chapter 5 of Emily L. Moore, Proud Raven, Panting Wolf: Carving Alaska’s New Deal totem parks (Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2018).

The story of the Oyster Man, a Tlingit totem pole

Oyster Man Totem Pole (sometimes referred to as “Giant Rock Oyster Totem”), originally carved in the 19th century, recarved c. 1940 (Saxman Totem Park, Saxman, Alaska)
Oyster Man Totem Pole (sometimes referred to as “Giant Rock Oyster Totem”), originally carved in the 19th century, recarved c. 1940 (Saxman Totem Park, Saxman, Alaska)

Key points

  • The Indigenous peoples and nations of southeast Alaska and the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State have long practiced the art of creating and erecting totem poles. The poles are carved from the logs of giant local cedar trees and then painted. Different types of totem poles include clan crest poles, mortuary or memorial poles, potlatch poles, and shame poles (and sometimes these overlap). Each serves a different purpose in the community.
  • Totem poles emphasize the importance of oral and visual traditions among the Indigenous peoples and nations of the Pacific Northwest Coast. This memorial pole from the Nex.ádi clan of the Sanyaa Kwáan Tlingit visually recounts a story that reinforces the importance of knowledge being passed down to children from their matrilineal aunts and uncles.
  • A good deal of individual clans’ history and broader cultural history was lost when European and Anglo-American newcomers, who began to arrive in the area in the 18th century, brought disease and misconceptions about the practices and traditions of the local Indigenous peoples and nations. Traders and colonizers destroyed or defaced totem poles incorrectly thought to be objects of religious worship, and many Native people left their villages for opportunities in newly emerging industries and towns.
  • - Saxman Totem Park was one of six parks built between 1938 and 1942 as part of the U.S. government’s
    New Deal
    labor and cultural preservation programs, specifically emerging from the 1934
    Indian Reorganization Act
    . The federal government paid Tlingit and Haida men, as members of the
    Civilian Conservation Corps
    , to repair or recreate more than one hundred 19th-century totem poles from uninhabited Native villages in Southeast Alaska. This particular pole was removed from the village of Cape Fox and then recarved and placed at Saxman Totem Park.
  • While traditionally totem poles would be left at the spot where they were originally raised, and allowed to deteriorate so the wood would return to the earth, the poles at Saxman and the other totem parks are preserved (frequently through recarving) to teach future Native generations as well as park visitors about the cultural practices of the local Indigenous communities.

Go deeper

Learn more about Saxman Totem Park
Watch the Smarthistory video about the Proud Raven Totem Pole at Saxman Totem Park
Learn more about the effort to create totem parks, including Saxman park, in Emily L. Moore, Proud Raven, Panting Wolf: Carving Alaska’s New Deal totem parks (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2018)
Learn about a Haida clan crest totem pole and potlatch pole and Tlingit mortuary and memorial poles, which are among a group of 19th-century Tlingit and Haida totem poles that were transferred to the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan, Alaska in the 1970s
Read more about totem poles and the Northwest Coast Village Project from the Bill Reid Centre at Simon Fraser University

More to think about

The story recounted on this totem pole is a reminder about how life skills are often passed on by example, from generation to generation within a community or culture. What are some of the lessons you have learned from elders in your community and how (and where) would you visually represent that lesson or your experience of it?

Paukeigope (Kiowa), Cradleboard

Paukeigope (Kiowa), cradleboard, late 19th century, wood, hide, glass, metal, cloth, 25.4 x 113 cm (Gilcrease Museum)
Paukeigope (Kiowa), cradleboard, late 19th century, wood, hide, glass, metal, cloth, 25.4 x 113 cm (Gilcrease Museum)

Key points

  • The production and use of cradleboards in the Kiowa community reflect the longstanding importance of intergenerational knowledge sharing and communal work, notably in areas such as community history-keeping, child rearing, and the arts.
  • This cradleboard also provides particular evidence of the history of the Kiowa during the late 19th century. The use of trade items as materials for the cradleboard points to Indigenous relations with Euro-American settlers in and around Oklahoma, where the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache reservation was located. The acquisition of the cradleboard by a museum suggests the necessity of selling treasured community items to survive the harsh conditions of reservation life. And, the specific designs in the beadwork likely correspond to the patterns used by Paukeigope’s ancestor, Kiowa Chief Dohasan (Little Bluff), in creating a battle tipi that recorded his experiences in armed conflicts in the mid-19th century.

Go deeper

Learn about the work of Paukeigope’s son, Stephen Mopope, and their family role in recording the history of the Kiowa people.

More to think about

Paukeigope made this cradleboard for use by members of her family, within the Kiowa community, rather than for display in a museum. Unfortunately, the necessity for communities to sell cultural belongings due to harsh living conditions within a colonial context is one of a number of troubling reasons for objects to be acquired by collectors and/or land in museum collections. How does learning this detail about Paukeigope’s cradleboard challenge or alter your thinking about Native art and museums in the United States?

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