Wednesday, 21 January 2015

New Acquisitions: Native American Interests

Turner collection on my desk ready for cataloguing © Pitt Rivers Museum
I recently had the pleasure of accessioning a delightful collection of Native American material kindly donated to the Museum by Jessica Turner. The collection was amassed by her father Geoffrey Eric Slade Turner, a keen Native American enthusiast. Geoffrey Turner was very familiar with the Museum having worked in an administrative position in the secretary's office at the Pitt Rivers neighbour, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History for over 50 years. His passion for the Americas and service to the Pitt Rivers Museum was recognised with the title ‘Honorary Assistant Curator (later Consultant) in North American Indian ethnology. 

child's slippers; 2014.43.17 .1 & .2  © Pitt Rivers Museum
Moose hair workbox; 2014.43.10 © Pitt Rivers Museum
Despite his interest in the culture and fauna and floral of North America remarkably in his lifetime he never made the journey across the pond. Despite this, his knowledge and interests ensured that he had a healthy correspondence with North American experts. The recent donation also included an extensive collection of photographs, postcards and letters, which having had a brief perusal indicate Turner established a warm friendship with his American counterparts. The photographs included scenes of ‘cowboy’s and Indians’ and postcards featuring notable figures from the Mexican Revolution of 1910, further showing his interest in Native American history. 

There are 37 artifacts in Jessica Turner’s donation which include a model totem pole, moose hair embroidered pieces, moccasins and skin pouches to name a few. Among the objects were letters and itemized listings of most of the objects detailing where they came from, approximate dates and other provenance information. The collection includes beautiful examples of moose hair embroidery including this satin and bark workbox and card case. My favorite item from the collection are these child’s slippers made from Caribou skin with white fur cuffs.

Embroidery techniques and a selection of moccasin vamps © Pitt Rivers Museum

Catalogued and traded up ready for photography © Pitt Rivers Museum
The collection is an interesting array highlighting Turner’s personal interests, eye for the aesthetically pleasing and scholarly interests such as the index cards with white cotton woven braid illustrating hair embroidery techniques. These techniques feature in the publication written by Turner as a Pitt Rivers Museum Occasional Paper titled ‘Hair Embroidery in Siberia and North America’, 1955. Again, emphasizing his scholarly interests are a collection of Moccasin vamps showing straight edges, scalloped edges and seal-fur.

Page 31 of Turner, 'Hair Embroidery' © Pitt Rivers Museum
Catalogued and traded up ready for photography
The collection has now been catalogued, photographed and put in storage. Given that most of the collection was organic it was frozen for a period before accessioning. The collection includes some early pieces and was mostly in good condition. I spent time making a soft mount for two beadwork necklaces, which would otherwise get tangled in storage.

Beaded necklace on soft mount for storage; 2014.43.24 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Faye Belsey
Assistant Curator 

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