Native America: Images from the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives

The Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains exhibition provides us with a wonderful opportunity to showcase the Museum’s Native American collections and resources. As someone who has studied Native American art and whose Grandmother was Native American, I am very proud to be working in an institution that has extensive collections documenting the cultural heritage of Native America.

Letters and notes on the manners, customs, and conditions of the North American Indian

Library records reveal early interest in this area with the acquisition of many titles we consider to be important today including George Catlin’s Illustrations of the manners, customs & condition of the North American Indians.

Native American art and culture has been an area of keen interest for this institution dating to the 1820’s with the Brooklyn Apprentices Library, the predecessor of the Brooklyn Museum. As this institution evolved from a library into a museum, plans were laid to develop an encyclopedic collection representing art and culture from around the world to be viewed by the citizens of Brooklyn and other local, national and international visitors. 1903 marked a new era for this institution with the establishment of a Department of Ethnology for “building up great ethnological collections, sending out expeditions for the acquiring of antiquities, first over all America, then over the entire world.”

Stewart Culin was hired as the first Curator of Ethnology and he quickly began to acquire collections representing Native American as well as African, Oceanic and Asian art and cultures. Culin worked alongside William Henry Goodyear, first Curator of Fine Arts, and Susan Hutchinson, founding Museum Librarian. The acquisitive force of these three long time Museum employees laid the foundation of the collections under the care of the Museum today.

Expeditions [2.1.010]: Collecting Trip Among the Indians of California and Vancouver Island

Culin kept meticulous records on the people and places he visited in his travels across Native America and his Expedition Reports and research files embedded with images.

To complement the Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains exhibition, we have scanned several photographs from the Culin Archives to give you a sense of the types of images that Culin collected. These photographs very often document objects in their original settings, revealing how those objects were created or used by Native peoples. He was interested in photography and collected the work of well-known photographers of the time including Charles L. Day,  A. O. Carpenter, Jack Hillers, Simeon Schwemberger, A. C. Vroman and Ben Wittick.

Native Americans: North America. Canada: Cree. View 01: Birchbark tepee (tipi) of Cree indians near Hudson Bay; cut away to show interior

In the days before 35mm slides were available, glass lantern slides were collected by the Museum to supplement lectures given by curators and educators. Today many of these images are rare or unique.

Also on view in the Library Display cases located on the second floor of the Museum, we are showcasing a set of newly scanned images from the lantern slide collection. In addition, you’ll find several rare items related to the Tipi exhibition there including a set of silk-screened images of painted tipis.

We also have many books on tipis available in the Library, so come visit and learn more about Native American culture!