Museum Blog #2–“Diegeños”

February 26th, 2009

This object is an illustration of a family native to the American Southwest. The man leads a donkey which carries a mother and child. A dog walks along at his heels. Behind them, the varied landscape of the Southwest is visible. The picture is titled “Diegeños.” The title is most likely the name of the family. The illustration was printed as a lithograph in a congressional report printed in 1857. The lithograph was placed on page 106 of the report and most likely appeared in the report to show congressional leaders what the natives of the American Southwest looked like.

The illustration was found in an 1857 Department of the Interior report on the United States and Mexico boundary survey. The illustration was drawn by Arthur Schott, the lithograph was produced by Sarony, Major, and Knapp and the report was printed by C. Wendell in the United States. The report was published by the first session of the 34th Congress.

For the congressional leaders who read this report, the illustration presents a very happy, welcoming Native American family. Though the average 19th-century American would not immediately feel a connection with a Native American, by presenting a family scene the Diegeños seem more relatable. By including the family’s name, the illustration puts a face on the Native Americans in the area and makes them seem friendlier. Most importantly, the family looks harmless. The man in the front is holding a walking stick and has no visible weapons. By drawing the family unarmed, Schott portrayed the Native Americans as unconcerned with American westward expansion and would not fight against it. There is also heavy Christian imagery in the picture; the Diegeños resemble Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. By relating the family to Joseph and Mary, it made them seem less “exotic” to the average American who might not have accepted the natives’ religion.

Many lithographs of this picture were published throughout the 19th century. The original report is housed in the Law Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

There can be a connection drawn between this illustration and the first seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In that seal, a Native American is pictured saying “Come Over and Help Us.” Though there is a two hundred year difference between the two images, they both have the same message: the Native Americans welcome the white settlers and will not harm them. The message is much subtler in the Schott illustration, but it can still be seen.

Underground Railroad Painting

February 26th, 2009

Charles T. Webber painted Fugitives Arriving at Levi Coffin’s Indiana Farm, A Busy Station of the Underground Railroad in 1893 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Webber’s work measures  52 3/16 x 76 1/8 inches and it is oil painted on canvas. The painting is currently located at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

The painting portrays slaves arriving to the farm of Levi Coffin. Coffin was an Underground Railroad stationmaster and is responsible for helping over 3,000 slaves escape bondage. The painting features Levi Coffin standing in the wagon, his wife Catherine and Hannah Haydock who was another important abolitionist during this time.

Coffins, a Quaker, was known as the “president” of the Underground Railroad. His house has been described as “Grand Central Station” and was the center of the network of “safe house” used to help slaves escape to freedom.

According to the, Webber created the painting as a tribute to the praise the work of abolitionist early in the 19th century. (source) This object would have been important to individuals who were involved in the abolition movement in the 19th century. The painting could represent to people, who approved of the goals of the abolitionist movement, a romantic vision of how some whites risk their lives trying to help slaves escape the oppression of slavery in the South.

The slaves are portrayed in this painting in a more negative light. The most visible black male is older and he is walking with cane being assisted by a white woman. He looks tired and broken. He is not an image of strength and resilience of a people who have survived hundreds of years of bondage. African Americans may not have hung this painting on their wall. In a patriarchal society, the lack of a strong central black male in the painting might have made the paint unappealing.

Native American Cradle Board

February 26th, 2009

The cradleboard has been used for centuries by Native American women to carry their infants.  The carriers varied from tribe to tribe.  In addition, the designs were personalized from mother to mother.  The basic construction was two flat boards, resembling skis, with a bunting attached where the baby was secured, arms at its side.  Inside the cradleboard the Native American women would place moss to absorb any bodily fluids.  The moss was not only disposable but also plentiful.  The basic idea was that a cradleboard left a women’s  hands free to accomplish other duties.  The wooden backing was a crucial element of the construction. If need be, babies could be suspended from trees, suspended from a saddle horn, or propped up against trees, fences or buildings. The two flat pieces of board extended above the baby’s head to help protect them from a sudden jolt or accident from falling.

The bunting was made of animal hide, or wicker and decorated by the mother with beads, shells, or feathers.  Plains Indians used buffalo hair for padding. Some tribes strapped the baby’s head down to flatten the back.  This was considered a desirable physical trait.  Ironically the Flathead tribe did not do this.  The use of a cradleboard was also believed to develop good posture. 

This photo is from a collection entitle “History of the American West 1860-1920″. The collection is housed in the Denver Public Library. The subject of the photograph is an Apache women and her baby. (circa. 1880)

The 20th century moms owe much to their Native American counterparts: disposable diapers, the “snuggly”, backpack baby carriers (often used by 20th and 21st century dad’s) and car seats. 


Patterson, Lotsee, and Snodgrass, Mary Ellen, Indian Terms of the Americas. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 1994

Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Vol. 3. Tarrytown: Marshall Craven Corporation, 1997

Denver Public Library. “History of the American West 1860-1920,” Western History/Geneology Department.,curt,aipn,omhbib,lhbtnbib,hawp

Dakota Frame Drum

February 26th, 2009

This artifact is a Dakota Frame Drum. A frame drum is usually made of wood and stretched rawhide. These instruments come in all different shapes and sizes. Wooden sticks through the rawhide are used to make noise with the drum and help stretch the rawhide . Wooden spikes are also placed through the drum to enable different sounds to be made.

Music played an important role in the lives of the Dakota people. It was an essential way to express their culture. Many songs were created and performed by the Dakota people. The frame drum was an important instrument in their songs. Also, painted on the drum is a picture of a buffalo. Buffalos were a main part of the Dakota’s life on the Great Plains. The buffalo was a source of food, clothing, and trade for the Dakota people.

The maker of this drum is unknown, but it is used by the Dakota people as well as other people that are apart of the Siouan family. The instrument was most likely made and performed by male members of the Dakota tribe. It was created in 1889 in the Great Plains.

This particular Dakote Frame Drum is made out of wood, rawhide, and leather. The size of the instrument is 9 cm. by 47.5 cm. The drum stick is made of wood and leather. The red cross on the drum stick symbolizes the four cardinal directions.

This object is currently housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is housed in the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments. Mrs. John Crosby Brown donated the 266 rare instruments in 1889. There was a newspaper article in the New York Times regarding this.

Mrs. John Crosby Brown

Mrs. John Crosby Brown…

          The 1853 oil painting by Eyre Crowe called After the Sale: Slaves Going South demonstrates what happens after the slave sales in Richmond, Virginia. The slaves are marched under escort of their new owners across town to the railway station where they went south. The slaves held on to their only possession, a bundle of clothing. This painting was exhibited at the Suffolk Street Gallery in London and is now owned by the Chicago Historical Society.

          Eyre Crowe, a British painter was known for his historical paintings. Crowe had a great interst in social realism. He was criticized at the time of his paintings for choosing unappealing subjects and presenting them with such clarity. Crowe’s After the Sale: Slaves Going South was inspired his appalling eye witness account to the Richmond, Virginia slave trade. Richmond, Virginia was the largest slave auction. He did numerous paintings about his experiences with the Richmond slave trade including, Slave Auction at Richmond, Slaves Waiting for Sale, and American Scene.

          Eyre Crowe’s work preserved part of America’s shameful, but yet honest history. Though his slavery paintings were frowned upon in his day, today they allow us to visualize first hand the inner workings of slavery.


February 2nd, 2009

John H. Belter

John H. Belter

This object displayed in this picture is a tête-à-tête, or a double sided sofa. In French tête-à-tête means “face-to-face”. This type of sofa allowed people to talk to each other in an intimate matter. This piece of furniture was popular in France in the 18th Century and it became popular in America in the 19th Century. The tête-à-tête meant wealth and prominence for people in America. Only the richest people could afford Rococo furniture. Belter’s furniture was especially expensive.  It also allowed people to have intimate conversations while seated. It was usually placed in rear of the parlor and was used for courting purposes. The tête-à-tête is an example of the international influence on America from immigrants in the 19th century. Furniture like this was influenced by the Rococo revival in France in the 18th Century. Most of the furniture during this period included intricate carvings.

This tête-à-tête was made by German born cabinetmaker, John Henry Belter. Belter moved to New York in 1833. Belter worked in a German furniture shop before moving to America. He is well known for his skill with wood lamination and his extraordinary carvings in wood. He mainly constructed Rococo pieces of furniture. He crafted this tête-à-tête between 1850 and 1860 in New York City. He made this piece to go along with other parlor items including a settee, two arms chairs, and two side chairs. It is made mainly from rosewood but also includes ash, pine, and walnut. The dimensions of the tête-à-tête in inches are 44 1/2 x 52 x 43.

This tête-à-tête by Belter is currently being housed in The Richard and Gloria Manney John Henry Belter Rococo Revival Parlor at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This piece was donated by Mrs. Charles Reginald Leonard.…

Richard and Gloria Manney John Belter Rococo Revival Parlour at the Metropolitian Museum of Art in New York

Richard and Gloria Manney John Belter Rococo Revival Parlour at the Metropolitian Museum of Art in New York

Maple Leaf Rag

February 1st, 2009

Released 1903 with lyrics.

Maple Leaf Rag composed by Scott Joplin in 1899

This copy of 19th century sheet music is entitled “Maple Leaf Rag”. It is a classic representation of ragtime music written by Scott Joplin in 1899.  “Maple Leaf Rag” is named for an African American social establishment, the Maple Leaf Club located in Sedalia, Missouri. Joplin spent many successful years in Sedalia where he was given the moniker the “King of Ragtime” before moving on to Harlem. His music is representational of both his 19th century African American heritage and his formal music training.

At the time many critics condemned ragtime music as frivolous. However, the patrons of the clubs where ragtime was played enjoyed the new music. In addition, ragtime was in integral part of the minstrel shows of that era.

Classic ragtime follows a specific themed musical structure:(AABBACCDD) and is fully composed, unlike the improvisational early jazz music that followed. Additional characteristics of ragtime are syncopated melody, loping left hand and it is written down; making this sheet music historically significant in American music. There are no live recordings of Joplin playing his music, only piano rolls made by him. He died in April of 1917 before the recording industry had become fully established.

Joplin had difficulty being published at first; however, eventually published “Maple Leaf Rag” with John Stark & Son, St. Louis  in 1899.  Stark, a white music publisher, released the original “Maple Leaf Rag” with the  cover design of the green maple leaf. With the money he made, he moved his business from St. Louis to New York. In 1903 Joplin was involved in one of many feuds with publisher Stark who, having obtained the publishing rights from Joplin, commissioned lyricist Sydney Brown to add lyrics to Joplin’s music. The racist lyrics which centered on the antics of a “mildly arrogant Negro” were released with the cover design of an African American stereotype and when sang to the melody resembles modern day Rap music.   

“Maple Leaf Rag” was the first piece of music to sell one million copies. The original is currently stored in the Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.


Libray of Congress. (accessed January 30, 2009)

HIST 328, History of Jazz, class notes Fall 2008.

Library of Congress. (accessed Janaury 28, 2009).

Library of Congress. (acessed January 28, 2009).

“Perfessor” Bill Edwards’ Ragtime, MIDI, Sheet Music, Nostalgia and Rag Resource Center. (accessed April 20, 2009).

Shooting Star

February 1st, 2009

This is a photograph of Shooting Star, a Dakota woman, and her sister, who is dressed in white woman’s clothing.  This image was created by photographer David Frances Barry in 1880s and was most likely taken on forts in the Dakota Territory. The Denver Public Library, who purchased the original glass negatives and prints in 1937, owns the photograph.

This image that shows two Dakota women, one dresed in “white women’s clothing” and the other dressed in traditional native clothing is important because it shows a literal transformation of Native Americans into civilized citizens.

Non-native viewers may have looked at the pictures as a romanticized representation of the old American West. Barry used some of his pictures of Native Americans on letterheads, business cards, and advertising copies for promotional usage, according to Robert W. Larson, the author of the book Gall. Later in his career he opened a gallery where he sold the Native American images.

Native Americans in Barry’s images were being photographed on reservations in environments controlled by the United States government. Barry paid some of his native sitters for their portraits. This would have been an opportunity for the Native American to increase their income.

According the University of Minnesota website the images of Native Americans taken during this period could have been found offensive “because they represent means within popular culture by which the sense of inferiority was imposed on Native-Americans during the period after the defeat of Native peoples on the Great Plains and the establishment of the “Reservation” system by the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

The picture is very similar to other images made during the late 19th century, which featured images of Native Americans dressed in traditional clothing and photographed against painted backdrops in frontier studios.  These pictures seem to be similar to other photographic styles of the period.