Several pipe bowls and stems of the Iowa tribe have entered into the collection of the Milwaukee Public Museum thanks to the efforts of Alanson Skinner, a former curator of Anthropology. The exquisite craftsmanship of each pipe is a testament to the importance of the ritual of smoking during ceremonies by the ruling members of society. The bowls of the pipes are made from a stone known as catlinite and the stems are made from ash wood. Decorations on the stems include wrapped porcupine quills and feathers and sometimes bird skins.
This collection was obtained from the Ndyuka of Suriname, a small Caribbean country on the northeast coast of South America. The Ndyuka are one of the six major Maroon groups living in either Suriname or nearby French Guiana. Maroon is a term used to denote the descendants of African runaway slaves from Dutch plantations during the late-17th and early-18th centuries. The culture is thus strongly rooted in West and Central African cultural traditions with some Amerindian influences.
This blanket is thought to have come from the Koniag people of Kodiak Island, Alaska. It is made of two layers of tan eider skins sewn together with 52 eider throat skins along the edges. These blankets are very rare and were prized for their warmth. The Museum is fortunate to have one other in its collection, which also comes from Alaska.
Milwaukee Public Museum Curator of Anthropology Dr. Samuel Barrett collected these items while on a Museum expedition to the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation in 1910. He witnessed an eight-day dance which brought Native Americans from all over Wisconsin and as far away as Oklahoma to the reservation. In addition to collecting material objects for the Museum, he recorded field notes about the dance and other cultural aspects of the Ojibwe that would rarely have been seen or documented otherwise.
There are 115 pieces of archaeological Peruvian featherwork in the Museum's collection. A majority of the items come from the collection of Malcolm Whyte, a former Milwaukee attorney and civic leader, who donated them in 1964. Most of these items come from the southwest coast of Peru, and some are believed to be from the Inca civilization (approximately AD 1400-1532). The items are very delicate and rare. The dry air and heat of Peru preserved them in burials for several hundred years. Objects from the collection can be seen on the Third Floor Pre-Columbian Mezzanine.
This belt was obtained along the Kuskokwim River in southwestern Alaska. The Unegkumiut, Kiatagmiut, and Ingalik groups are the most likely sources for its production. Three hundred and fifty one sets of caribou incisor teeth are attached to leather, with a fringe of Russian trade beads and fox canine teeth. The belts were made by men but worn by women as displays of the man's hunting ability. Each set of teeth represents one caribou. These belts were usually family heirlooms that were thought to have curing powers which increased with the age of the belt.
This Shoshone war shirt was collected by E. C. Leffingwell of Milwaukee in 1878 north of Fort Washakie in west-central Wyoming and purchased by the Museum in 1900. War shirts were decorated with the owner's individual war triumphs, common materials being quills or beadwork, ermine tail pendants, red stroud, and tassels of horsehair or human hair wrapped in strips of trade blanket.
Spiro is an archaeological site in eastern Oklahoma consisting of 12 mounds. Occupied from AD 1100-1450, the site was a ceremonial, mortuary, and trade center. The elite of Spiro had the power to obtain materials exotic to the region from such places as the Appalachian Mountains, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Gulf of California. The site of Spiro Mound was destroyed in the mid-1930s by treasure hunters. Perishable materials such as textiles were well preserved and widely sold and dispersed by the looters to individuals and museums.
Originally from England, Samuel M. Brookes moved to Milwaukee in the 1840s and found a niche in the local art scene by painting portraits. He was commissioned by the Wisconsin State Historical Society in 1858 to paint important Native American chiefs and settlers of the area. This large oil painting is supposedly of the Menominee chief named Oshkosh. A tremendous amount of dignity is visible in the expression and posture of the man in the painting, along with a sense of his importance in Wisconsin history.