Released June 21, 2003
Salem, Mass. In the fall of 2003, the Peabody Essex Museum’s traveling exhibition of Native American Art, Uncommon Legacies, returns from its cross-country tour to go on view in the museum’s striking new wing. The exhibition, drawn from the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum,presents an important look at Native Americans’ response to the changing cultural landscape from 1750 through 1850, and includes many of the earliest Native American artworks outside of European museums.
“Uncommon Legacies explores early Native American art objects in the context of the myriad forces present at the time of their creation,” says John R. Grimes, curator of Native American Art at the Peabody Essex Museum. “Even the earliest examples are expressions of individual and cultural creativity amid change.”
Divided into five thematic groupings: “Nations Within,” “Pacific Coast Traders,” “The Interior Wilderness: Outposts, Explorers, and Sojourners,” “The Interior Wilderness: Missionaries,” and “South American Adventurers,” the exhibition provides a rare and comprehensive look at early Native American art and culture. Not only does each object posses personal and cultural meaning related to its artist, but each piece also acts as a commentary on the nature and impact of the relationships between Native Americans and Europeans.
The exhibition is organized in conjunction with the American Federation of Arts, and aims to dispel the ethno-centric view of Native Americans by including a range of objects that demonstrate the scope of Native American culture and its aesthetic appeal. Included in Uncommon Legacies are a number of objects representing everyday items, such as a wood and bone Tlingit halibut hook (ca. 1800), thought to be imbued with supernatural powers to aid fishermen, and elaborate ceremonial garments, such as a feather headdress from Brazil (ca. 1853), whose bright colors act as an expression of the wearer’s wealth.
The dynamics of the relationships between Native Americans and European settlers are expressed in the introduction of new media, glass beads, silk ribbon, and stroud cloth into the Native Americans’ art. As well, some objects, such as a Haida ship panel pipe (ca. 1842) decorated with small carvings of colonial houses, demonstrate the inclusion of Euro- American motifs.
“This unique collection provides a window on past Native American creativity and a foundation for appreciating the work of present-day Native American artists. The quality of our dialogue with these past native artists will be vastly enriched by individuals—native people, artists, curators, scholars—who will share their insights into earlier symbols and values, and their meaning today. Thus, these works of art begin an ever-expanding conversation, uniting people past and present,” added Grimes.
Setting the backdrop for the exhibition is the new Peabody Essex Museum, scheduled to open June 21, 2003. The show will be presented in one of the largest venues for changing exhibitions in New England. Designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, these new galleries are key elements of a $125 million transformation of the Peabody Essex, the nation’s longest continuously operating museum. The project encompasses 250,000 square feet of new and renovated public and gallery spaces, and features the reinstallation of the Museum’s permanent collection of art and culture from North America, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa. The new Museum is the centerpiece of an ambitious master plan that Safdie, working with landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, created for the Museum’s campus of galleries, historic homes, and outdoor spaces.
Uncommon Legacies is currently on view at the Cincinnati Art Museum through January 2003. The exhibition will travel to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in April 2003 before going on display at the Peabody Essex Museum from September 19 through November 16, 2003.