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State Historical Society of Iowa Press Release

For immediate release November 24, 2009

Contact: Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515) 281-3858

Historical Museum exhibit features Native American artifacts

Everyday garments and utensils showcase artistic skill and vision

(DES MOINES) – A new exhibit of rarely seen Native American artifacts ranging from weapons and war shirts to beaded tobacco bags and moccasins opens next month at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines.

“Art in Daily Life: Native American Collections at the State Historical Society of Iowa” opens Dec. 5, 2009, through January 2011 at the State Historical Museum, 600 E. Locust St. in Des Moines. Admission is free and open to the public. Historical Museum hours are 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-4:30 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday and all official state holidays. More information is available at www.iowahistory.org or 515-281-5111.

“This is a fascinating exhibit of Native American artifacts that come directly from the State Historical Museum’s permanent collection,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Cyndi Pederson said. “I encourage all Iowans and others who have an interest in Native American history in Iowa to visit this wonderful exhibit.”

“Art in Daily Life” examines Native American objects as both works of art and cultural artifacts.

“The native people of North America lived in a world that did not recognize art as something separate from the production of everyday garments and utensils,” Historical Museum Director and Chief Curator Michael O. Smith said. “In this exhibit, visitors will see how items of daily use can be elevated from mere utility to examples of artistic skill and vision.”

Smith said a Western Great Lakes Medicine Bag, 1770-1820, is an ideal example of how Native Americans merged artistic skill with utilitarian objects.

“Black-dyed deer skin bags embroidered with porcupine quills were created and used by many Great Lakes tribes,” he said. “They were used as containers for objects and materials associated with sacred powder, healing and ritual societies. The imagery of lightning emanating from a central figure may relate to the owner’s vision and guardian spirits.”

A partial list of artifacts in the “Art in Daily Life” exhibit follows:

  • Singing Figure, Chochiti, 1880s
  • Mocassins, Crow, c. 1885
  • Storage or Possibles Bag, Sioux, Lakota, 1880-1885
  • Underwater Panther Charm Bag, Meskwaki, c. 1875
  • Headdress, Sioux, Lakota, c. 1890

While some of the artifacts featured in “Art in Daily Life” were on display at the old Historical Building, the vast majority of them have rarely been seen by the public.

From the early 1900s to 1988, much of the Museum’s permanent collection suffered damage from exposure to sunlight, tobacco smoke and fluctuations in temperature and humidity at the old Historical Building.

“When our predecessors ran out of exhibit space, they were forced to store artifacts on dirt floors in that building’s basement,” Smith said. “Many of those items were nearly destroyed after being confined like that for up to 80 years.”

In 1988, the Museum transferred its permanent collection to the new State Historical Building, where more than 115,000 artifacts receive conservation treatment and are rotated into and out of exhibits.

“Without question, our Native American collection receives the most number of inquiries from the public,” Smith said. “With very few resources, we have made steady progress with advances in conservation technologies and we are very proud and pleased to showcase these important artifacts of Native American history in Iowa.”

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The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa's historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa's past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa's historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit www.iowahistory.org or call 515-281-5111 for more information.

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