Exhibit provides snapshot of American Indian life

Lyndsay Elliott

The Gauntlets are part of men’s regalia for dances or parades to show patriotism. LESLEY KATZENMEYER | SUMMER KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

The Kent State University Museum has opened a new exhibit featuring photographs of American Indians by Edward S. Curtis, artifacts from tribal groups and items collectors.

The exhibit, titled “Native Americans through the Prism of Culture: Edward S. Curtis & the Legacy of Collectors,” is a joint effort between Stan Hywet and the Kent State University Museum, which is located in Rockwell Hall. It will be on display until June 15, 2008.

Anne Bissonnette, curator of the museum, said the exhibition provides the opportunity for viewers to question the authenticity of Curtis’ work.

She said Curtis often staged his photos by removing modern contraptions from the setting, adding accessories and posing his subjects, therefore distorting the authenticity of the culture.

Curtis began producing and collecting pictures in 1889, when the government was attempting to assimilate American Indians, as an attempt to document their lives in North America, according to a press release.

“Curtis idealized Native Americans as being noble, mysterious and heroic,” Bissonnette said. “His individual view was tainted by stereotypes.”

Meredith Craig, junior political science major, said Curtis’ work has shaped how Americans view American Indians because he made the pictures more artistic than realistic.

“The photos make me wonder what they were really like,” Craig said.

There are more than 40,000 photographs covering more than 80 tribes in Curtis’ collection. But Bissonnette said the exhibition only showcases a portion of his works.

She said the purpose of the exhibition is to help people appreciate Curtis’ photos as artwork, yet understand the pictures represent a piece of history.

Craig said the exhibition brings a new cultural aspect to Kent.

“An event like this should be required for students to attend in order to fulfill the diversity requirement because so many cultures are represented in those courses, but none focus on Native American culture,” Craig said.

According to the Fall 2006 undergraduate statistics, 69 Kent State students are American Indian.

“It’s important for us to understand diversity in our lives,” Craig said. “I think the exhibition is a great way for students to explore and learn about a different culture.”

Curtis’ Native American collection is available in its entirety on the Northwestern University Web site.

Contact fashion reporter Lyndsay Elliott at [email protected].