Saturday, November 21, 2009

Northwest Indians in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Historical Society has a new online exhibit, Photographs of Native Americans:

What are photographs of Native Americans from the central and western parts of the United States doing in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society? The portraits in this web presentation were collected by four Bostonians during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Charles W. Jenks and Francis Parkman collected carte de visite and tintype portraits of American Indians during the 1860s as historical records of tribal groups and their role in contemporary American politics.

Those Bostonians--don't turn your back on them and count the silver when they leave! My favorite part of the exhibit is Photographs from the Wanamaker Expeditions, 1908-1913. The photographer of the Wanamaker Expedition was Joseph Kossuth Dixon, who might most kindly be described as imitative of Edward Curtis. Among Dixon's photographic stunts were putting on an all-Indian stage production of Hiawatha and bribing a number of chiefs to come to an "old-time Indian council" his boss hosted at the Crow Agency. Dixon's photographs (like those of Curtis) tell us a lot about white attitudes towards Indians at the turn of the last century, but almost nothing about the Indians themselves.

[Photo: "The Sunset of a Dying Race" Photogravure by Joseph K. Dixon, 1913.]


KathyB. said...

Very interesting!

Bill Youngs said...

Good catch, Larry. That Dixon photograph "Sunset of a Dying Race" is the most "precious" I can recall on that general theme, so cherished by sentimentalists, circa 1900. One caveat with the Massachusetts Historical Society's presentation: they note that the original negative for that photograph is in the Wanamaker Collection at the "University of Indiana." There is no such university! Unlike any other flagship university campus (University of Washington, etc.) the one in Bloomington reverses the order and leaves out the "of" -- it's "Indiana University." (I grew up in Bloomington.)