Can you tell me about the 1903 museum expedition where this was collected? Did Brooklyn Museum do digs in pueblos or how did they acquire these?
Stewart Culin, an ethnographer and curator for the Brooklyn Museum, traveled to the Southwest and purchased many objects while there.
At time time, there were already some regulations on the purchase and excavation of Native American objects, both imposed by the United States Government (if the object was found on federal land) and through tribal authorities. Culin noted that objects of major significance were not for sale.
The Museum today fully complies with North American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and tribal authorities/governments
in relation to our Native North American collections.
Where is this from?
This bowl by an ancient Pueblo artist was made in the Southwestern United States - Arizona to be specific. The artist was likely an ancestor of the current Hopi or Zuni tribes.
This bowl was found with objects inside it, which are believed by archaeologists to symbolize offerings for a deceased. It was likely found in a burial.
As a ceramics artist, I'm deeply inspired by this piece, and grateful for my opportunity to see it today. But it was acquired by the museum in 1903, which implies that it was taken from a native community with little compensation. How do you suggest thinking about these contradictory facts?
Thank you for your thoughtful question. Unfortunately, what you mention was a common scenario in the relationship between museums and Indigenous peoples in the early 20th century. In 1903, this piece would have been purchased by the curator Stewart Culin who likely obtained it on one of his early collecting expeditions to the southwest. Culin considered himself an ethnographer, not an archaeologist, so likely did not remove this from a burial himself; but I am not sure how much he may have paid for it and/or if the payment went directly to a tribal member.
As for how to think about the contradiction between being able to see the piece in public and wanting to appreciate its beauty versus reckoning with a problematic colonial collecting history...I think it is powerful that you are able to see both sides of the contradiction!
We cannot ignore the previous era's type of collecting (often called "Salvage Ethnography") -- when many curators/anthropologists/ethnographers in the United States were driven by the idea that Native American communities were going to completely vanish. They collected widely, quickly, and systematically with seemingly more care for the objects and their documentation than the living people that they collected from because they honestly thought that Native American culture was disappearing. Now, we know this was false and recognize the deep knowledge held in living source communities.
Are museums (not just in this one) ever asked to return artifacts?
Absolutely. There was a federal act passed in 1990 called Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Following NAGPRA guidelines, Museums and cultural institutions in the United States that held Native American cultural objects were required to send inventories of their collections to the appropriate tribal councils and representatives, who could then request objects be returned. The Brooklyn Museum supplied all Native American tribes with inventories of all objects attributed to each tribe and began hosting tribal consultations in 1995. From a museum perspective--Although tribal claims may result in the loss of certain objects or important parts of the museum's collection, tribal visits result in opening channels of communication. Native American delegations are most generous with sharing their knowledge and contribute greatly to information about the collection, as well as the proper methods of storing, handling, and exhibiting objects.
This was really interesting, I appreciate your thoughtful answers!