Since its founding, The Field Museum has devoted considerable attention to the Native peoples of North America. The result is a series of collections of striking depth, strong in recent history and contemporary culture. Staff collaborate actively with Native American groups, who come regularly to visit and study the collections of their nations.
The Museum holds a large collection of material from the Hopewell Culture of Ohio dating back more than 2,000 years. It is one manifestation of the far-flung Hopewell network that extended over much of the eastern United States and included trade in copper, obsidian, pearls, exotic flints, mica, and quartz.
Another strength of the Museum's North American collections is the material culture of groups in the Plains and Montane regions. Gathered around the turn of the century during a great florescence of Native American art and craft these assemblages are a record, both sobering and heartening, of cultural change. They also reflect the long history of migration and diversification of Native people across the heartland of America.
In the Museum’s collections from the southwestern United States, prehistoric specimens have played a key role in understanding the origins of agriculture in the region, as well as social adaptations to local ecology. Museum curator Paul S. Martin gathered the core of this archaeological material.
These collections also include historical ceramics, textiles (blankets, sashes, dresses, and kilts), agricultural implements, kachina dolls, and other art and artifacts from the Hopi Tribe. Probably the largest collection for any single culture group in the Museum, this assemblage is complemented by many turn-of-the-century photographs taken in Hopi villages.
Baskets, ceremonial objects, medicines, clothing, and games from the Western Apache; most were gathered in the White Mountain Apache Reservation during the early twentieth century.
Northwest Coast Collections
These collections evidence the many-faceted adaptations of human societies to stark, changing environments. These include hunting and fishing paraphernalia, clothing, and ceremonial objects from groups such as the Haida and the Tlingit. Together with superb photographs and field notes this late nineteenth and early twentieth century collection is one of the world's most exceptional records of the traditional lifeways of the far north's native peoples.
One of the largest and most comprehensive collections in any museum comes from the Plains Cree, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Sioux, and Crow. Particularly fine is the assemblage of Crow shields, which continues to inspire and inform Crow traditional leaders, art historians, and anthropologists alike.
Image above: Detail of a transformation mask (shown open), representing a shaman, which was fashioned from carved and painted cedar by Xániyus (Bob Harris) before 1893. Kwakiutl, Vancouver Island, Northwest Coast. Catalog Number 61.19166. © The Field Museum, A108352_1c, Photographer Ron Testa.