Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Lessons from Wampum

One of the forthcoming Penn Cultural Centres' 'Brown Bag Lectures' ('bring a lunch), on October 2, 2014 will be delivered by Margaret Bruchac, University of Pennsylvania on: Wampum* in Museum Collections: Tracking Broken Chains of Custody. Her abstract can be seen on one of my other blogs, but I noted the use of the term "restorative research" to refer to the rebuilding of a lost collecting history. A second point was the observation that passing through the hands of collectors, there was (as in the case of archaeological artefacts - removed from the realm of evidence to 'art') an imposition of values that obscured indigenous meaning.
These objects were also caught up in the emergence of a lucrative market in American Indian art that relied upon the physical alienation of iconic artifacts and the scholarly re-classification of tribal patrimony as privately-owned "art." This research project critiques the pervasive influence of museum fakelore, and illustrates the importance of combining archival research with Indigenous consultation to recover far more coherent understandings of colonial events and Indigenous objects, past and present.
'Fakelore' seems a pretty good description of some of the (sometimes financial enhancing) folkish explanations some dealers and collectors have for some of the features of the artefacts they own and trade. The objects sold as 'Celtic ring money' being a case in point.
*Wampum belts (constructed of light and dark shell beads woven together with twine and leather)  used by Native American peoples to encode and facilitate inter-tribal and international relations.

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