Published: February 22, 2011
Native American decorative arts and craft works †acquired by H.F. du Pont and a long-overlooked part of the Winterthur collection †are highlighted in a small but powerful collection.
While some of the works presented in “Made for the Trade: Native American Objects in the Winterthur Collection,” on view beginning March 1 at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, were crafted for Native American use, this unique exhibition concentrates on items made by Native Americans specifically for trade with early explorers, Eighteenth Century colonists, and Nineteenth and Twentieth Century “tourists.” The exhibition examines these objects’ evolution over time, from tourist souvenir to collected artwork, and presents them as a celebration of American diversity and design.
Native Americans sold bowls, baskets and pottery to European colonists as early as the 1500s. By the 1800s, non-native peoples became very interested in the objects as exotic souvenirs of the supposed “disappearing Indian.” By the 1900s, the items were considered decorative arts objects acquired and displayed by collectors.
“H.F. du Pont, helping set the 1920s Americana style trend, used native-made items in many of his rooms,” said Laura Johnson, curator of the exhibition. In an attempt to collect evidence of an indigenous but diminishing way of life, museum professionals, ethnographers and private collectors bought and stored as many native-made pieces as they could.
In the process, some pieces lost their cultural context, making it easier to see them purely as decorative objects. This exhibition contextualizes these objects and highlights craftsmanship characteristics specific to various tribes, such as the Paugussett, Passamaquoddy, Pequot and Mi’kmaq.
With these everyday objects that are masterpieces of beauty and function, “Made for the Trade” invites visitors to discover a new kind of American decorative arts at Winterthur.
Winterthur is on Route 52, six miles northwest of Wilmington, Del., and five miles south of US Route 1. Visit www.winterthur.org or call 800-448-3883 or 302-888-4600 for information.
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