The exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts and
the Peabody Essex Museum. Showcasing approximately 100 exemplary art works from one of the
nation's oldest collections of native art, the exhibition reveals the
richness of indigenous cultures of the Americas in a variety of mediums and
forms. Following an introductory section of 13 rarely exhibited objects
from European collections,
Uncommon Legacies is arranged in five thematic
groupings: "Nations Within"; "Pacific Coast Traders"; "The Interior
Wilderness: Outposts, Explores, and Sojourners"; "The Interior Wilderness:
Missionaries"; and "South American Adventurers." Each section examines how
Native American artists responded to the changing cultural landscape from
1750 to 1850.
Selected by guest curators John R. Grimes, Deputy Director of
Special Projects and Curator of Native American Art at the Peabody Essex
Museum, and Christian Feest, professor of anthropology at the
Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe Universitšt University of Frankfurt, and overseen by
an advisory committee of eminent Native American experts, this exhibition
moves beyond traditional stereotypes and ethnocentric viewpoints, presenting
recent research and new scholarship.
According to AFA director Julia Brown, "Since 1909, the American
Federation of Arts has produced outstanding programs based upon rigorous
scholarship and a fresh, stimulating approach, including exhibitions of
Native American art, such as Uncommon Legacies. We are delighted to be
collaborating with the Peabody Essex in bringing these exceptional works of
art to new audiences."
The genesis of the East India Marine Society's collection, as the
Peabody Essex Museum was named originally, makes it a powerful vehicle for
understanding the creative versatility of Native American artists of this
period. The Society was founded in 1799 by an elite group of sea captains
who emulated the collecting voyages of Captain James Cook and developed a
"cabinet of natural and artificial curiosities," a foundation for what was
to become the collection.
Although the collection was inspired by Cook's expeditions, it
differs significantly in that it was assembled in the course of regular
commercial and missionary interactions between native peoples and
non-natives. Ship captains both chronicled the creative output of the
people with whom they had contact, and were themselves agents of profound
social, political, and economic change.
Salem became the headquarters of the American Board of Commissioners
for Foreign Missions in 1812, and by 1816-20, missionaries had set out to
minister to the Cherokee and other southeastern Native American peoples.
Over the next two decades, missionary outposts were established in the Great
Lakes region. Seeking to document the lives of the peoples with whom they
lived, missionaries at many of these stations collected native works,
forming remarkable collections that subsequently became part of the Peabody
Essex Museum's holdings.
In the Pacific Northwest, commerce created extensive trade
relationships between American mariners and Tlingit, Haida, Kwakiutl, and
other native communities. Trading for furs and other natural commodities
for the Chinese market, Salem's captains also traded to obtain items for
display at the East India Marine Society, including masks, textiles,
personal apparel, and many utilitarian objects, both decorated and plain.
These range from the spectacular "Coppers" Chilkat blanket, the earliest
known of its type, to ingeniously carved stone pipes and other small items
that combine native iconography with images of men and ships of the American
The early 19th-century lumber and fish trade of the New England and
Canadian maritime coasts yielded opportunities for assembling the Society's
collection of works by Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Micmac artists. For
example, a magnificent Pawtucket pouch from the 17th century is one of very
few extant works from this early period. In many parts of southern New
England, a new cultural milieu and new modes of creative expression emerged
from the economic interaction of Europeans and Native Americans through
hunting, trapping, and fishing.
Both the Yankee merchants and whalers on their passage around Cape
Horn visited the ports of call on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South
America. They brought back a wealth of native art, including ceramics from
Peru, an apron from the Caribbean, and a headdress from Brazil.
Over the last two decades, both scholars and connoisseurs have
become persuaded that traditional Native American arts are to be viewed as a
dynamic continuum of creative responses to new ideas, influences, and
materials. These oldest surviving Native American works belong to a complex
living tapestry of cultural expression. They are the product of the
artists' effort to balance, in a particular time and place, the shifting
conventions of the community with their own visions, skills, and mediums.
Chippewa-Ojibwa (Anishinabe) or Ottawa (Odawa)
Wood, cloth, quills, beads, leather, and shells
Peabody Essex Museum
Ex A.B.C.F.M. Collection, 1946