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Dakota Saddle

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Dakota Saddle

Dakota buckskin saddle from Fort Totten, North Dakota. Circa 1875.

For details, view this saddle in our collections database.

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Dakota beaded leather moccasins

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Dakota beaded leather moccasins

Pair of dark brown, sinew-sewn leather beaded moccasins with rawhide sole. Made in the 1890s.

For details, view these moccasins in our collections database.

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Ded Unk’Unpi: We Are Here Exhibit Acquisitions

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

The Minnesota Historical Society strives to make history relevant to the lives of contemporary Minnesotans. One of the ways in which the Society carries out this mission is by collecting and caring for materials that document the stories of Minnesota’s peoples.  In 2012, the Minnesota Historical Society and the Native American Community Development Institute with All My Relations Art sponsored the Ded Unk’unpi : We Are Here art exhibit. As 2012 marked the 150th year since the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862, twenty participating American Indian artists shared their reflections on the war and related events, as well as on this “commemorative” year.

As the Ded Unk’unpi : We Are Here exhibit came to a close, the Society’s Collections department was privileged to acquire for its permanent collections eight of these works. Many of the artworks themselves document the historic events of the War and its immediate and extended aftermath, including the subsequent mass execution in Mankato and Dakota removal to Crow Creek. But the artworks also serve somewhat as documents in-and-of-themselves; to be “read” by future Minnesotans in order to better understand this point in time -2012 – and the powerful and complicated emotions, artistic visions, and scholarship of today. Consisting of both traditional and contemporary media, prevailing themes found throughout the pieces include the regaining of cultural strength, the healing of wounds, and the honoring of relatives.

In the ledger art piece, For Every Great Man, There is a Great Woman, 2012, artist Avis Charley depicts three generations of Dakota women moving westward across the plains. A noticeable absence of men may allude not only to the strength of these women, but to the fact that many Dakota men (even those who did not participate in the War), were held as prisoners for years following 1862. In her artist statement, she writes, “The women represent different generations and the virtues of our Dakota values. These values are courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity and the message will be about healing, moving forward, and empowering ourselves as Dakota women despite the trauma in our history.”

For Every Great Man, There is a Great Woman, 2012
Avis Charley
color pencil and acrylic on paper

On December 26th 1862, following six weeks of war, thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota – a hanging that remains the largest one-day execution in American history.  Among these men was Wicaŋḣpi Wastedaŋpi, or Good Little Stars. Within the Dakota culture, each child born has a public name which denotes their birth order, and first born males are called Caske (Cha-SKAY).  Wicaŋḣpi Wastedaŋpi, among many others, often answered to his public name of Caske.

Wicaŋḣpi Wastedaŋpi and his family protected Sarah Wakefield, the wife of a doctor from the Upper Sioux Agency, and her children during the war. In spite of protests and professions of his innocence by Mrs. Wakefield, he was sentenced to death, and she ostracized for her efforts to protect him.  There are conflicting accounts of whether or not this man was hanged by mistake or whether his execution was deliberate.  One version of the story purports that because there were multiple Caskes imprisoned, Wicaŋḣpi Wastedaŋpi simply answered the executioner’s call by mistake. A closer inspection of the historical record proves this version to be oversimplified and perhaps superficial.

Today, to many Dakota people, Wicaŋḣpi Wastedaŋpi represents a martyr or a lost hero. It can be seen that for his efforts in protecting other human lives, his only reward was a vindictive frontier justice. Through her piece Caske’s Pardon, Gwen Westerman offers a prayer for his federal pardon.

Caske’s Pardon, 2012
Gwen Westerman
Quilt: 100% commercial and hand- dyed cotton; glass, beads, hemp, and paper embellishments

James Star Comes Out created his piece, 1862 Sung Ite Ha, and other similar pieces, with the goal of revitalizing the art of horse regalia in his home community of Pine Ridge. He writes that “in doing so, I believe that it will be beneficial to all, as it will exemplify the beauty of Lakota culture and in return it will encourage, motivate and revive a centuries-old art form.” This piece was created as a tribute, to honor the 38 men that were hanged in Mankato in 1862.

1862 Sung Ite Ha, 2012
James Star Comes Out
cotton fabric, brass spots, brass bells, beads, tin cones, goose feathers, red fluffs, turkey feathers, and mirrors

These pieces, along with others by well-known artists Jim Denomie, Julie Buffalohead, Maggie Thompson, Jodi Webster and Dwayne Wilcox were formally added to the Society’s permanent collections in 2012. To view these and other artworks, visit our collections online database here.

Ben Gessner
Collections Associate, American Indian & Fine Art Collections

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Quillwork Cuffs by Dallas Goldtooth

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

2013_41_2.jpgUnique to North America, porcupine quillwork is an art form used by Indigenous peoples that have traditionally resided in the porcupine’s natural habitat – from coast to coast in the northern United States and Canada.

With tendrils stretching back over centuries, quillwork was the primary decorative art form used for embellishing rawhide and tanned hide items prior to the introduction of glass beads of European manufacture. Many Dakota and Lakota people have oral traditions which explain how quilling was brought to them by Double Woman (or Double Face Woman). The earliest extant examples of quillwork are found in Canada and are said to date to the 6th century.

In their natural state, workable porcupine quills are usually pale with black tips. Historically, color was added through the use of dyes made from plant and animal materials. By the 19th century, commercial dyes became readily available and greatly expanded the possibilities for new designs and color combinations. Historic quillwork from the plains, much like painting and beadwork, is often characterized by geometric patterns – concentric circles and rosettes, as well as other geometric shapes, were commonly found on panels adorning men’s shirts.

2013_41_1.jpgTraditionally practiced by women, today many men are also contributing to the revival of the quillwork art form.   Through working with knowledgeable practitioners and relatives (and sometimes by studying museum collections), today quillwork artists are revitalizing the practice; it is again becoming a vibrant and living art form.

Quillwork in the Minnesota Historical Society Native American Collections is robust, with examples of historic moccasins, pipe bags, men’s shirts, pipe stems, armbands, dresses, ornaments, dolls, gloves, jackets, tobacco pouches and more attributed to Dakota makers, as well as birchbark tourist trade items made by Ojibwe makers.

In addition to our historic collections, there are also quillwork pieces created by contemporary artists. Among them is a cradleboard done by Hope Two Hearts and Galen Drapeau (Isanti and Ihanktowan Dakota, respectively), circa 1980. An image of this cradleboard, which won best traditional art at the Sante Fe Indian Market, was featured in promotional materials for Hope and Galen’s business, the Elk’s Camp Society.
Surrounded by the art form for most of his life, Dallas Goldtooth, Hope’s son, has himself been creating contemporary work for over a decade. Recently, the MHS Collections Department had the opportunity to purchase a pair of cuffs from the artist, seen here.

These will be on view in the Recent Acquisitions show at the  James J. Hill House until the end of June.

Ben Gessner
Collections Associate, American Indian and Fine Art Collections

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Ded Uŋk’uŋpi—We Are Here Art Exhibit at the James J. Hill House

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Ded Uŋk’uŋpi—We Are Here art exhibit opened at the James J. Hill House last weekend. 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the largest mass execution in the history of the United States. On December 26th, 1862, 38 Dakota warriors were sentenced and hung as a result of the U.S./Dakota war.  This timely and important group exhibit features works by 20 Native American artists whose work responds to the legacy of these events.

Work by eight of the artists has been selected for purchase as part of the Minnesota Historical Society’s permanent collection. The painting above is titled “The Crow is to Die For!” by Dwayne Wilcox.

Featured Artists:
Joe Allen, Angela Babby, Karen Beaver, Todd Bordeaux, Julie Buffalohead, Avis Charley, Gordon Coons, Jim Denomie, Michael Elizondo Jr., Evans Flammond, Charles Her Many Horses, Dakota Hoska, Henry Payer, Charles Rencountre, James Star Comes Out, Maggie Thompson, Jodi Webster, Gwen Westerman, Dwayne Wilcox, Bobby Wilson

Dakota Artist and Scholar Gwen Westerman Wasicuna said the following about the exhibit:

“With a stunning mix of humor and anger, hope and despair, this collection expresses the array of complicated responses to a brutal history.  While the thirty-eight executed Dakota are prominent, other essential aspects of culture and tradition are also present, including the strength of Dakota women, the role of horses and honor, and the ever-present landscape of the homeland. Whether incorporating new interpretations of traditional forms of beadwork, winter counts, and horse masks, or employing diverse contemporary techniques in glass, found objects, and photography, the messages here are as diverse as the artists themselves.  The stories depicted contribute to a broader understanding of the impact of these historical events and the power of art to tell a difficult story.  Abstract, realistic, and representational, these pieces help us see the transformative capacity of trauma and healing, destruction and regeneration, and above all, representation and memory.”

This exhibit will be on view during Hill House hours until January 13, 2013.

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Očhéthi Šakówiŋ – The Seven Council Fires web site is now live!

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

For over a decade the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) has been digitizing collections materials for the purposes of increasing accessibility, supporting research, and preserving original materials. The Očhéthi Šakówiŋ – The Seven Council Fires digitization project expanded to include additional goals. Sought by Dakota individuals who wanted increased access and understanding of the Dakota material culture in the MHS collections, a new level of transparency was achieved. By using the WOTR (Write On The Record) tool to record feedback and comments MHS steps back and shares authority in interpreting this material. Both MHS and Dakota communities will benefit from this partnership as information about these items is dramatically enhanced.

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Dakota language spelling cards

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Dakota language spelling cardsSeventy-seven white cardstock spelling cards printed with words and phrases from the Dakota language.  The cards are from the Santee Agency in Minnesota and were used for educational purposes in the 1960s.

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Mendota South

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Mendota South

Mendota South
Alexander Masley
Wood Engraving on Paper, circa 1935.

Alexander Simeon Masley grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota where he began a long career as an artist, student, and educator.  During the early 1930s, after attending the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis School of Art, Masley moved to Munich, Germany and began to study with Hans Hofmann, presently known as an abstract expressionist. Throughout these years and beyond, Masley developed both his formal compositional skills and technical printmaking abilities, especially in the area of wood engraving.

Wood engraving is a relief printmaking process similar to other woodblock printing methods; a picture is composed and engraved into a piece of wood. When preparing a standard woodcut for printing, an artist uses the side grain of a soft wood; however, when the wood engraving technique is utilized, the end-grain of a hardwood is used. This allows the printed image much more intricacy in detail, as can be seen here.

During the 1930s Masley used these techniques to produce prints which often featured Minnesota landscapes as subjects. In many of his prints from this period, he used a shifting, stacked perspective, an example of which is a prominent feature in this composition.

The confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers has historically been important to different groups of people for disparate reasons. The Dakota word for the confluence of the rivers is B’dote, which means “where the waters meet” or “where one river joins another.” Historically it has and continues to be considered a sacred place, and held by some Dakota to be an area of their origin.

Near the time of the founding of Fort Snelling, one of the first permanent non-Indian settlements developed across the Minnesota River. Settlers and fur traders transformed “B’dote” into “Mendota” and the settlement retains that name today. Currently the city of Mendota houses Saint Peter’s Catholic Church, home to the oldest parish in the state. It is also home to the Henry Hastings Sibley house, the Faribault house, and several buildings associated with the American Fur Company.

The wood engraving presented here is of a view of the city of Mendota, completed by Masley circa 1935.

Benjamin Gessner, Collections Assistant

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In Search of Lorenzo Lawrence

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

In Search of Lorenzo Lawrence is a story about identity lost and found. Dr. Elden Lawrence (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota) is a Dakota scholar and writer. For the past several years, Elden has been doing research in the MHS collections, trying to find out more about his ancestor Lorenzo Lawrence, who played a key role in the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. Lorenzo Lawrence is an enigmatic and controversial figure. Well-known in the 1860s, by the late 1880s he disappears into the mists of time. Elden is slowly piecing together the puzzle of Lorenzo’s life. His biggest thrill came in September 2008 when, through a chance meeting with a stranger, he found a photograph of Lorenzo Lawrence.   Directed and produced by Ellen Miller and John Fulton.

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Alexander G. Huggins Diary and Huggins Family Photographs

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

The Minnesota Historical Society has recently acquired a collection of materials so exceedingly rare that one wonders how they survived and where they have been. The collection, created from the 1830s to the 1860s by missionary Alexander Huggins and his family, was recently discovered in an estate sale in Palo Alto, California.

Huggins DiaryIn 1835, Thomas S. Williamson and Alexander G. Huggins organized the Dakota mission at Lac qui Parle on the Minnesota River. This was west of and well beyond “the thin fringe of white settlement” around Fort Snelling. Until now it was not known that Huggins kept a diary of his daily life. This diary offers an extraordinary glimpse into lives of the Dakota in this area and is therefore a potential treasure trove for scholars. The diary deals with Dakota customs, such as making “holes” in children’s ears and Huggins’s invitation to a “dog feast.” There is a great deal of information on the interactive economy between the missionaries and the Dakota: Huggins writes of buying deerskins, trading bread and butter for ducks, and exchanging shirts for buffalo tongue. The Dakota language was crucial to Huggins’s work. He discusses meeting with Wamdiokiya or Eagle Help, the first Dakota man to learn English, in order to determine the correct spelling of Dakota words, and he writes about preaching in Dakota. There are references to prairie fires, buffalo hunts, and descriptions of Dakota guides and villages, all interspersed with a wonderful cast of Dakota people whose names have not been well known to historians.

For historians of the American West, the most interesting parts of the diary may well be Huggins’s entries narrating two of his travels. The first was a seventeen-day trip from Fort Snelling to Lac qui Parle in 1835. The Huggins family traveled with the family of Dr. Thomas S. Williamson up the Minnesota River, first on the American Fur Company’s Mackinaw boat, then by oxcart from Traverse des Sioux to Joseph Renville’s stockade at the lake. Huggins’s diary also beautifully documents a thirty-day trip across the prairie from Lac qui Parle to Fort Pierre on the “Missourie” in present-day South Dakota. Stephen Riggs accompanied Huggins on this trip and published an account in his book Mary and I…, but his text is far more prosaic.   

A smaller diary kept by Alexander’s son Amos, who was killed during the Dakota War, and an autograph book kept by his daughter Mary are also part of the collection acquired by the MHS. Even more exciting are three carte de visite albums and twelve daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes with images of all of these Presbyterian missionary families. Many images are identified and are entirely new to historians. Scholars are already hoping to identify the others using internal clues.        

The MHS library already holds rich collections supporting the material in this acquisition. We have a collection of papers from the Huggins family, as well as papers of the three other well-known missionary families: the Riggses, Ponds, and Williamsons. Many of these families lost their papers while fleeing the Dakota War in 1862. We also have early material created by the Dakota including letters written to the government and between family members. The acquisition of these new Huggins papers provides a deep and powerful new perspectives on both whites and Dakota people at a time of great change in Minnesota’s history.

Thanks to the many individual donors who made this acquisition possible.

Learn More:

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An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs