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The collector's gaze and the legacy of David T. Vernon

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The collector's gaze and the legacy of David T. Vernon
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Landrum, Christine Marie Jacobs
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85 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Subjects / Keywords:
Collectors and collecting ( lcsh )
Indians of North America -- Material culture -- Collectors and collecting ( lcsh )
Collectors and collecting ( fast )
Indians of North America -- Material culture -- Collectors and collecting ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 80-85).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Christine Marie Jacobs Landrum.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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Full Text
THE COLLECTORS GAZE AND
THE LEGACY OF DAVID T. VERNON
by
Christine Marie Jacobs Landrum
B.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1999
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science
2003
l------T
[A! |
I**.......**


This thesis for the Master of Social Science
degree by
Christine Marie Jacobs Landrum
has been approved
by
David Ruppert
£ fj £ £>P3
Date


2003 by Christine Marie Jacobs Landrum
All rights reserved.


Landrum, Christine Marie Jacobs (M.S.S.)
The Collectors Gaze: and the Legacy of David T. Vernon
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Pamela W. Laird
ABSTRACT
Although collecting is a human fascination, the study of collecting is, in
fact, in its infancy. As collecting is a cultural commonality ripe for examination,
analysis, and critical consideration, this thesis begins to address collecting as an
area of cultural study and critique from a multi-disciplinary perspective within the
context of the United States.
What follows is a critical analysis of the study of collecting and a
methodological investigation intended to challenge the existing object-based,
positivist, paradigm of analyzing collecting through a multi-disciplinary
examination to the analysis of one of twentieth-century Americas most influential
collectors of American Indian material culture, David T. Vernon. Using Michel
Foucaults theories of power, knowledge, the gaze, and identity in conjunction
with a broad-based intellectual history approach, this thesis identifies influential
scholars as well as methodological and thematic trends and approaches historically
and traditionally used to study collecting, collections, and collectors. After
establishing the historical, social, and theoretical framework, this thesis identifies,
describes, and applies a socially relevant, contemporary, postmodern, socio-
IV


cultural analytical approach to the study of collecting, including issues of power,
identity, quality, and significance, in the context of the United States based on the
theories of Foucault.
Using the case study of David T. Vernon as a starting point and focusing
on Vernons gaze, and the social, political, and economic problems raised by his
collecting practices. The look forward illuminates theoretical and methodological
possibility for contributing to the discussion surrounding collecting. By applying
Foucaults theories within this framework to the case study of David T. Vernon,
the power of Vernons gaze becomes evident in the legacy he left behind, still
shaping views of contemporary Native Americans, their material culture, and
American Indian ethnographic collections.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed
Pamela W. Laird
v


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my family and friends for their unconditional love and
support throughout the crazy journey that is my life. I especially wish to thank my
Mother and my husband -1 wouldnt be where or who I am today without you.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Thanks to my advisors and professors including Pam Laird, Myra Bookman, Dave
Ruppert, and Tom Noel for their patience and support during the fun and
excitement of my graduate career. I also wish to thank the wonderful employees
of the Intermountain Region of the National Park Service and Grand Teton
National Park for their kindness, understanding, and shared enthusiasm for
preserving our heritage resources.


CONTENTS
Figures..............................................................xi
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION.................................................1
The Problem...............................................3
The High-Modem Period..............................5
The Late-Modern Period.............................5
The Postmodern Period..............................6
The Post-Colonial Period...........................7
Philosophical Perspective.................................9
2. THE INTELLECTUAL HISTORY OF COLLECTING......................14
Jean Baudrillard -
Critical Theorist, Cultural Materialist,
Postmodern Critic.................................18
Walter Benjamin -
Historical Materialist, Critical Theorist.........19
J. J. Brody -
Art Historian, Cultural Critic....................19
Kate Duncan -
Art Historian, Anthropologist.....................20
Ian Hodder -
Material Culturist, Post-Structuralist............21


Eilean Hooper-Greenhill -
Material Culturist, Museologist.....................22
Shepard Krech III -
Anthropologist, Social Scientist, Historian.........23
Paul Martin -
Material Culturist, Social Theorist.................24
Susan Pearce -
Hermeneuticist, Psychohistoricist, Social Theorist..24
Marjorie Swann -
Material Culturist, Historicist.....................26
W. Richard West -
Museum Director, Lawyer.............................27
The Intellectual Lineage...................................28
Relevant Questions.........................................33
Themes in Publications.....................................35
What is Missing............................................41
3. THE NEED FOR AN EXPLORATORY CASE STUDY.........................43
4. DAVID T. VERNON AS AN AMERICAN COLLECTOR.......................48
A Brief Biography..........................................49
On Collecting Practices....................................53
Vernons Illustrative Aesthetic............................61
Transition into the Museum Context.........................67
The Legacy of David T. Vernon..............................69
5. CONCLUSION.....................................................74


Looking Forward...............................76
BIBLIOGRAPHY.............................................80
x


FIGURES
Figure
3.1 A rattle from the David T. Vernon Collection, 2002,
Courtesy of the National Park Service....................................43
3.2 A Crow shirt from the David T. Vernon Collection, 2002,
Courtesy of the National Park Service....................................45
3.3 Examples of spoons and other utensils from the David T. Vernon
Collection, 2002, Courtesy of the National Park Service..................46
3.4 David T. Vernon at home with his personal collection, n.d.,
Courtesy of the National Park Service....................................47
4.1 David T. Vernon working as a "cowpuncher," n.d.,
Courtesy of the National Park Service....................................50
4.2 David T. Vernon at home examining his personal collection, n.d.,
Courtesy of the National Park Service....................................56
4.3 A photograph of an Indian comer that J. E. Standley had
arranged in his home, n.d................................................56
4.4 One of Vernons illustrations from North From Texas, 1952................62
4.5 One of Vernons illustrations from Stock Raising in the
Northwest, 1951 .........................................................63
4.6 One of Vernons illustrations from North From Texas, 1952................63
4.7 Weinold Reiss. Nobody Has Pity on Me or Burton Bearchild,
1948 (Burlington Northern Railroad)......................................65
4.8 Weinold Reiss. Floyd Middle Rider, 1948
(Burlington Northern Railroad)...........................................65
xi


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
We have been so preoccupied with words that we have neglected
things...1
John Kouwenhoven
Humans have been curiously collecting objects of material culture for
centuries, millennia, and perhaps even time immemorial. Whether art or artifacts,
teeth or teaspoons, hair or Hummels, collections across the world manifest the
ubiquitous nature of the act of collecting. Museums, galleries, private homes,
curiosity cabinets, attics, and shoe boxes indicate the importance of collecting to
humankind regardless of race, class, political, or social status. Yet, just last year
The Journal of the History of Collections reported, Only recently, however, has
the study of collections and their collectors become the subject of great
multidisciplinary interest. Collecting is a universal cultural commonality ripe for
examination, analysis, and critical consideration. As such, this thesis offers a
critical analysis of the study of collecting within the context of the United States
1 John Kouwenhoven, American Studies: Words or Things, American Studies in Transition,
Marshall Fishwick, ed., (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964), 16.
' Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 14, no. 1 (2002) located at eo.uk/hiscol/scope/>; accessed October 3, 2002.
1


and a methodological investigation intended to challenge the existing object-based,
positivist, paradigm of collecting through a multi-disciplinary examination of one
of twentieth-century Americas most influential collectors of American Indian
material culture, David T. Vernon. Using an intellectual history approach, this
thesis identifies methodological and thematic trends and approaches historically
and traditionally used to study collecting, collections, and collectors. After
establishing the historical, social, and theoretical framework, this thesis identifies,
describes, and applies a socially relevant, contemporary, postmodern, social-
cultural analytical approach to the study of collecting in the United States based on
the philosophical contributions of Michel Foucault (1926-1984).
The thesis looks forward toward other possibilities for expanding the
existing object-based, positivist, research paradigm associated with the study of
collecting. Based on Foucaults influential work, overlaid with the work of
contemporary scholars of collecting including Shepard Krech, Susan Pearce,
Marjorie Swann, and W. Richard West, a socially relevant paradigm shift begins to
appear. Using the case study of David T. Vernon from this thesis as a starting
point, the look forward illuminates multiple theoretical and methodological
alternatives discussing collecting as improved exploratory techniques addressing
contemporary issues of power (both individual and institutionalized), the gaze,
identity, and definitions of quality and significance. As a twentieth-century
American collector with relatively humble Midwestern, middle-class beginnings,
2


whose objects have graced the walls of some of Americas finest cultural
institutions, and who is not well-known to most historians, anthropologists, or
museum specialists, Vernon is a perfect subject for a contemporary, exploratory,
postmodern, social-cultural analytical approach to the study of collecting.
Vernons gaze, the inherent social, political, and economic problems raised by his
collecting practices are important elements for understanding the influential social
and cultural roles played by collectors. Like many other twentieth-century
American collectors of ethnographic objects, the problems of Vernons collecting
practices include issues of power and identity, as well as subjective definitions of
quality and significance.
The Problem
As an area of new academic interest concerning the many facets of who,
what, why, and how people have collected and continue to collect and the social
and cultural consequences of collecting, an intellectual history approach is
necessary in order to identify the thematic and methodological commonalties in
the existing literature. To date, the primary methodologies appear limited to
Critical Theory, Marxist Historical Materialism, and Social Theory, although some
contemporary authors are beginning to consider other less-traditional, more
dynamic contemporary approaches with biographical influences and social,
economic, political, and cultural undertones. The more recent, ingenious
3


approaches are identifiable by a shift away from object study toward more relevant
personal, cultural, social, political, and even economic aspects of collecting. In
spite of these recent improvements, no cohesive, central identifiable theme has
emerged to date beyond object-based studies of collecting centered on novelty
items or connoisseurship practices. Common themes identified throughout known
publications include: object-subject relationships, identity, community, nation,
ownership, European heritage, private versus public spheres, aspects of social and
cultural structures including political, social, and economic power, and more
recently, effects of postmodern multivocality. It is important to note that neither
the academic nor the professional museum community has adequately addressed
the study of collecting as a distinct body of knowledge or area of critical scholarly
interest until quite recently.
Because interest in the study of collecting, versus the study of objects, is a
relatively recent phenomenon, the bulk of the publications, including books and
articles, are similarly recent and derive primarily from the high-modem (1934 -
present), late-modern (1970 1998) and postmodern (1968 1999) periods.
Contemporary, more socially relevant, publications derive primarily from the post-
colonial (or decolonial) period (1978-present). Each of these periods are
identifiable by a distinct set of a priori assumptions and perspectives that construct
the intellectual, social, and philosophical perspective, or context, simultaneously
framing and limiting the publications.
4


The High-Modem Period
Positivist assumptions that the truth can be discovered through a scientific
approach emphasizing observation characterize the high-modem (1934 present).
Formalism as a discourse of the observable including color, shape, and line and
an aesthetic quality based upon individual viewers subjective response to art is an
important assumption of the high-modem. This lack of dimensionality, which
continues to be shared by many, was problematic and limiting as it was based on
the objectification of material culture removed from its context, and helped to
institutionalize subjectivism by placing aesthetic judgements of quality and
significance out of the hands of the artists, or creators themselves. During the high-
modem, the gaze of the critic, and collector, was more powerful than that of the
artist, and social, economic, and political structures of collecting, museums, art,
and collectors continued to emerge and evolve.
The Late-Modern Period
The late-modern (1970 1998) brought several new ideas into the dialogue
surrounding American art, collecting, collectors, and collections. Critical theorists
began to question the assumptions of modernism and suggested the importance of
context and criticism with regard to the study of objects. Many also began to look
at objects of art within the framework of commodification, consumption, and
material culture. The insufficiency of late-modern philosophy, insofar as it relates
5


to the study of twentieth-century American collecting, collectors, and collections,
is the lack of focus on identity beyond the objects themselves. Phrases such as art
for arts sake created a physical and intellectual disparity between the artist and
the art that remains prevalent even today.
The Postmodern Period
The postmodern period (1968 1999) is often characterized as a theoretical shift
rejecting positivism and objectivism and replacing these problematic notions with
more discursive approaches. Likewise, an heightened criticism, or skepticism of
social and economic power structures and the purposeful inclusion of multiple
perspectives and metanarratives to define quality and significance mark
postmodernism. Foucaults postmodern his skepticism is evident throughout The
Birth of the Clinic (1963) and inspired Foucault to identify the myth of the
doctors clinical gaze and systems of institutionalized power. For many,
including Foucault, the postmodern period has come to characterize an heightened
awareness of political, social, and economic power. Beyond the important
philosophical influences of Foucault as outlined in The Birth of the Clinic,
Madness and Civilization (1961), The Order of Things (1966), The Archeology of
Knowledge (1969), and The History of Sexuality (1976), postmodern skepticism,
multivocality, and subsequent shifts of power are also important elements
informing this thesis. Many have argued that the larger philosophy of
6


postmodernism is vulnerable to criticism in that it suggests that there is no one
answer or truth. Thus, the sea of relativism that is often falsely ascribed to
postmodern practice, especially methods of deconstruction (identifying and
analyzing hidden structures, systems, and relationships), undermines any definition
of quality, significance, or meaning, leaving the discussions to focus on
irreconcilable differences. However, it is important to note that postmodernism
does not deny the existence of truth, rather it opens opportunities to explore truth
through other methods and theories, including emphasis on the interpretation of
objects as texts and multivocality, rather than traditional narrative.
The Post-Colonial Period
In the contemporary post-colonial (or decolonial) period (1978-present), some
important thinkers are beginning to add yet other essential dimensions to the
existing philosophical framework. Going beyond postmodernism, post-colonial
theory focuses on issues of identity, including race, class, and gender, as they are
experienced or lived. Post-colonialism also critically addresses the political,
social, and economic structures that are in place perpetuating societal norms.
Many theorists working within this framework are introducing socio-cultural
analyses that emphasize cultural foundations, role of discourse, and consequences
of the existing theoretical paradigm. As social consciousness increases as a result
of continuing globalization, cultural critics and philosophers are offering
7


alternatives emphasizing the democratic, and suggesting mitigation efforts to
address social, economic, and political inequalities within a legal framework.
Although contemporary philosophical thought is beginning to address many of the
problems that relate to the inadequacy of methodological and theoretical tools
available to scholars, they have not yet evolved into a cohesive body of
knowledge. This overall lack of direction diffuses the intellectual framework and
does not allow for responding to a focused, effective, discussion or a concise body
of knowledge. No discemable intellectual lineage exists for the study of collectors,
collecting, and collections in the context of twentieth-century America the
discipline lacks an identity of its own.
Another aspect of interest to the contemporary, or postcolonial, study of
collecting, collectors, and collections in twentieth-century America, is the
proliferation of published material from Europe, and England in particular, in
comparison to a lack of material originating in American academia. It appears that
American collectors and scholars have only recently begun to question the
complexity of collecting within the American context. The apparent lack of
scholarly materials from within the United States makes it necessary to consider
publications from Europe as the backbone of an intellectual history analysis,
because it is the European tradition and history of collecting that has provided the
intellectual framework and research paradigm for American collecting. Although
the volumes of European publications have helped to shape American museums,
8


collections, collectors, their influences and implications, as well as their study, the
body of literature from Europe simply does not accurately address the unique
aspects of twentieth-century American collecting, collectors, and collections. The
unique social, political, and economic aspects of American collecting require a
specifically American approach that addresses these and other issues. The
powerful gaze of colonialism, aspects of multiculturalism, and American culture,
politics, economic, and social issues have not yet been fully realized.
Philosophical Perspective
Incorporating the disciplines of art history, anthropology, sociology,
philosophy, and history, this paper examines the intellectual history of collecting
as it stands today and suggests new directions for future research based upon
historic context (the social and cultural conditions during the time Vernon
collected), capitalism and consumerism (the economic and social aspects of
Vernons collecting), connoisseurship (Vernons definition of quality and
significance and their influence on his collecting practices and those of his
contemporaries), multi-vocality (the acknowledgement that Native American
voices are lacking in the discourse, inspired by postmodern criticism), and
biography (identifying who Vernon was, and how he collected). By studying the
history of the study of collecting, intellectual threads including the importance of
recognizing individual and institutional power, the gaze, and subjective
9


definitions of quality and significance, can illuminate and translate to a critical
study of David T. Vernon and the David T. Vernon Collection. As a new field, the
study of collecting has yet to be fully defined, or to have matured into a well-
rounded, complex body of knowledge. Rather, as an investigation into an youthful
subject, this paper intends to provide insight as well as to inspire and illuminate
possibilities for future research. Collecting seems to increase in popularity within
the consumer culture, as evidenced by television shows and popular books
dedicated to collecting, such as Antiques Roadshow, the increasing legal issues
surrounding intellectual and cultural property, the success of websites specializing
in the selling and/or auctioning of collectible items such as E-Bay, and the
amazing achievements of companies that manufacture and market collectible items
to specific consumption communities. It therefore becomes increasingly important
to increase our academic understanding of collecting, and especially those
individuals who have become international icons of American collecting.
In addition to the methodological influences established by earlier studies
of collecting, collections, and collectors, the philosophical explorations of Michel
Foucault influence this thesis to a large degree. Foucaults emphasis on the
relationship between knowledge and power, the institutionalization of power, what
he termed the gaze, and subjective definitions of normalcy that subsequently
serve to wield power are important influences and motivations that have inspired
me and others to look at issues of epistemology more closely. In The Birth of the
10


Clinic (1963) Foucault identified what he called the myth of the doctors
penetrating clinical or observing gaze. Foucault questions the validity of the
gaze, as it is used to empower doctors by asking, How can the free gaze that
medicine, and through it, the government, must turn upon the citizens be equipped
and competent without being embroiled in the esotericism of knowledge and the
rigidity of social privilege?3 Additionally, Foucaults attention to language and
specifically vocabulary (i.e. discourse) as mechanisms for learning, describing,
classifying, and perpetuating cultural norms and positions of power, is essential for
an understanding of how collecting relates to notions of civilization and individual
as well as collective identity. Furthermore, Foucault illustrates that power is
complex, situational, and can be strategically used by individuals (such as doctors)
and institutions (such as hospitals and governments). Humans communicate
Foucaults concept of identity through discourse.
As current culture questions power structures embedded in political, social,
economic, and cultural systems and cultural institutions (such as museums),
traditional paradigms and assumptions come into question. Museum collections
and private collections raise important philosophical questions such as: Who
collected these items? To whom do these items belong? Why were these items
collected? What is the significance of these items? How can significance be
3 Michel Foucault. The Birth of the Clinic: an Archeology of Medical Perception. 1963.
Reprint and translation by A. M. Sheridan Smith. (New York: Vintage Books, 1975), 45.
11


determined? What is the quality of these items? How can quality be determined?
What does the collection tell us about the people who made these items? What
does the collection tell us about the person who collected these items? These
questions are not merely issues of physical ownership; they are issues of
intellectual control as well as issues of epistemology and colonial economic and
social power and primary concerns. For instance, recent legislation has addressed
these conflicting moral and ethical issues relating to collecting through the Native
American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990 in which
many cultural items including human remains within museum collections, once
treated as property, have either been returned to their lineal descendents or have
remained in museums but cared for by tribes once again through traditional
practices. Thus, in recent years, museums have begun to serve as public forums
where, according to Marjorie Swann, collecting could become a site of
conflicting ideologies and identities.4 These and other complex issues stemming
from postmodern challenges to existing and historic power structures serve as an
overlay to the more formal philosophical perspectives.
4
Marjorie Swann, Curiosities and Texts: The Culture of Collecting in Early Modern England
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 122.
12


CHAPTER 2
THE INTELLECTUAL HISTORY OF COLLECTING
Very little literature exists with regard to the history of the act of collecting
itself. Eric Femie, Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of
London, has confirmed that The Lives of the Artists by the Italian artist Giorgio
Vasari, published in 1550 with an expanded edition in 1568, is the first text on the
visual arts extensive and consistent enough to be called a proper history.5
Although Vasaris benchmark publication began the discourse of art history, he
limited his subject to artists and their art and directed, perhaps more importantly,
toward collectors and patrons through its value-laden discussion. This initial art
historical period began shaping conceptions of art that remain in question even
today. In spite of the extensive symbiotic relationship between art, artists, and
collectors, examining the relevant literature illustrates that the primary focus of
publications relating to collecting remained consistently focused on objects well
into the twentieth century.
Collecting is a form of consumption and as such, has also been understood
historically in economic terms as patronage, particularly during the early years of
5 Eric Fernie, ed. Art History and Its Methods: a Critical Anthology (London: Phaidon Press
Limited, 1998), 11.
13


art history although the practice of patronage continues today in a less grandiose
fashion. Femie defines patronage as an act, but he also addressed the duality of
individual roles held by patrons. The first role is financial, but the second role is
more subjective and ultimately determines their own success within the context of
the public and private worlds of art as it concerns the ability to distinguish and
define quality.6 Additionally, Femie argues, patronage is the chief area
of social context which art historians have traditionally taken into account.7
Femies critical perspective is important because it illustrates not only the active
nature of patronage, but it also defines the roles of collectors who are essentially
synonymous with patrons. It is within this historical context that complex notions
of taste and pleasure, as well as the economic and social underpinnings of
patronage, or collecting, as well as its associated body of literature can be
understood.
Considering Vasaris Life of the Artists as the most rudimentary beginning
of the discourse surrounding collecting, the inclusive timeframe of the literature
appears staggering to consider. However, Paul Martins assertion that, Academic
research has only recently been undertaken into contemporary popular collecting,
and has only just begun to feature as a serious aspect of consumer behaviour and
material culture studies identifies a deficiency in research concerning consumer
6 Ibid., 350.
7 Ibid., 350.
14


culture and its social, economic, and political impacts for living communities, as
well as the way in which collecting frames popular understanding of objects and
o
people and the relationships that connect them. As such, although volumes were
written on the subjects of art and artists during the late Renaissance and
Enlightenment periods, critical consideration of collectors, the consumers of such
objects of material culture, is a relatively recent phenomenon. The discursive shift
from object (items in a collection or to be collected) to subject (collector of said
item or persons related to said items) is evidence of a larger critical, philosophical,
and cultural shift in modes of thought that began during the early modem,
continued through the postmodern, and into the early decolonial period. The
decolonial characterizes the current period in which dominant social and cultural
paradigms are challenged on a number of fronts. As such, within the enormous
timeframe between the Renaissance and decolonial periods exists several
moments of proliferation in which individuals began to investigate the nuances
of collecting as a subject in and of itself.
A survey of bibliographic entries relating to collecting demonstrates the
response to the subject of collecting within the philosophical milieu of the mid-
twentieth century. The literature available is limited to a small body of secondary
printed sources including articles and books. Although some very recent scholars, 8
8 Paul Martin, Popular Collecting and the Everyday Self: The Reinvention of Museums? (London
and New York: Leicester University Press, 1999), x.
15


primarily Paul Martin and Susan Pearce from Leicester University in England,
have begun to incorporate interviews, questionnaires, and radio and television
sources, the written word clearly remains the documentary form of choice and
mode for claiming and asserting authority. Although several individual collectors
have written about their collections, to date, few scholars have employed
exploratory methods to analyze the many facets of collecting, including the impact
collecting has had upon those cultures who have produced items outside the
European tradition, but whose material culture often comprises the very objects
most sought after by collectors, such as Native American cultural artifacts.
Many early collectors, following the historical lead of Vasari, wrote
extensively about the collections they had amassed. Aside from these verbose
expressions of wealth and power, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) produced the
seminal publication on the specific subject of collecting titled Illuminations:
Essays and Reflections in 1935 according to most contemporary scholars.9
The intellectual history of collecting, including studies of museums,
material culture, philosophy, classical and contemporary popular culture studies,
and can be found throughout the publications of several different fields. Susan
Pearce, the most prolific of the contemporary experts, insists that the early or
formative material is extremely difficult to assess because it is widely scattered,
9
Susan Pearce and Ken Arnold, eds., The Collectors Voice: Critical Readings in the Practice of
Collecting, vol. 2: Early Voices. (Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2000), viii.
16


exists only patchily in specialist libraries and archives, and sometimes requires
translating, usually from Greek or Latin, into English.10 Additionally, she asserts
that because the study of collecting is a growth point in cultural studies, no
singular body of work has been assembled into a nice, neat package.11 Therefore,
investigations into the intellectual history of collecting are at once challenging,
frustrating, exciting, and full of opportunities.
The most influential and scholarly authors (in alphabetical order) include
Jean Baudrillard, Walter Benjamin, J. J. Brody, Kate Duncan, Ian Hodder, Eilean
Hooper-Greenhill, Shepard Krech, Paul Martin, Susan Pearce, and more recently,
Marjorie Swann and W. Richard West. This list of scholars is not exhaustive,
rather representative of various perspectives or prominent schools of thought, and
it is worth noting that Hooper-Greenhill, Martin, and Pearce are all affiliated with
the University of Leicester in England. American scholars Shepard Krech, Kate
Duncan, Marjorie Swann, and W. Richard West offer some of the most promising
and contemporary American perspectives on the subject of collecting. It is
apparent when considering this set of primary authors that the study of collecting
has traditionally been a European endeavor. Considering the cultural, political,
social, and philosophical ties between European cultures and Antiquity, as it has
come to be known, this intellectual lineage is not surprising. In an effort to
10 Ibid., x.
11 Ibid., viii.
17


understand better where the writing on collecting has come from, a brief
introduction of the primary scholars follows, along with their primary
methodologies and/or philosophical perspectives.
Jean Baudrillard -
Critical Theorist, Cultural Materialist, Postmodern Critic
Jean Baudrillard is Professor Emeritus at the University of Paris. Baudrillard is a
contemporary French philosopher and critic of modem and postmodern culture.
He has published extensively since 1956, and the majority of his publications are
available in English, having been translated from French. In Simulacra and
Simulation (1981), Baudrillard is suspicious of science and empiricism and
criticizes these traditional methods through the creative and skillful use of a
complex metaphoric vocabulary. Baudrillard calls for a more subjective and
experience-based perception of the world, and acknowledgement of the synergistic
relationship between object and subject. He describes the postmodern condition
through the simulacrum, Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the
double, the mirror, or the concept.12 Through this criticism of the real,
Baudrillard challenges the way in which the world is understood and experienced.
From this perspective, relationships between humans and objects, including
collections begin to take new and meaningful forms.
12 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Faria Glaser. (Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan Press, 1994. Originally published in French by Editions Galilee, 1981), 1.
18


Walter Beniamin -
Historical Materialist, Critical Theorist
Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was German-bom, of Jewish decent, and one of the
most influential critics of literature and culture of the early Modem period. He is
associated with the Frankfurt School and is connected with both Marxist
philosophies and Critical Theory. In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections (1935)
Benjamin is one of the first scholars to speak of collecting in and of itself as he ties
collecting to the larger themes of ownership and connections created through
consumption, which Benjamin considers the most intimate relationship that one
can have to objects.13 Themes of ownership and consumption are important,
complex concepts linking contemporary stewardship to collecting. Thus, through
his work, Benjamin introduced material-based cultural critique and opened new
avenues for issues of power, identity, and property to be explored.
J. J. Brody -
Ait Historian, Cultural Critic
J. J. Brody, as an art historian and as a professor, confronted the assumptions of
American art history and the relationships between Native American painters and
patrons. His 1971 publication, Indian Painters and White Patrons, was an
influential because in it, Brody introduced a new set of questions concerning
13 Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. 1935. Reprint, edited and translated by
Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), 67.
19


objectification, exploitation, colonialism, and the components of the problem,
which Brody identified as social, historical, and formal. Brodys questions are
just as relevant today as they were thirty years ago, if not more so, and his
intellectual influence can be seen most recently in Painters, Patrons, and Identity:
Essays in Native American Art to Honor J. J. Brody (2001) edited by Joyce M.
Szabo. In addition to inspiring the establishment of the University of New
Mexicos doctoral art history program, contemporary scholars, such as Aaron Fry,
Adrianne Santina, and Kate Morris are expanding upon Brodys theories in the
contemporary intellectual context of the United States. Although these new
scholars are broadening the scope of questions, their perspectives clearly derive
from J. J. Brodys initial assertions.
Kate Duncan -
Art Historian, Anthropologist
Kate Duncans work builds upon J. J. Brodys questions and focuses more clearly
on collecting practices, private collectors, museums, and regional Native American
art and artists. In her 2000 book, 1001 Curious Things: Ye Olde Curiosity Shop
and Native American Art, Duncan identifies the cultural framework of early 20th
century collecting by citing the influences of Joseph E. Standley, C. T. Currelly,
and George G. Heye, all collectors and contemporaries of David T. Vernon.
Besides focusing on the impacts of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop founded in 1899 on
20


Northwest Coast Native American art, Duncan carefully describes the motivations
behind such collectors and exhibition venues. Duncan exposes the social, cultural,
and political aspects of the exhibition of ethnological collections at early Worlds
Fairs including lessons of social Darwinism, and the inevitability of progress,
exploitation of natural resources, and the superiority of the attendees more
advanced culture.14 As Duncan points out, Among the general public there was a
tremendous curiosity about the strange and picturesque habits and manufactures of
people unlike themselves...15
Ian Flodder -
Material Culturist, Post-Structuralist
Bom in England, Ian Hodder is most well known for his archeological research,
and has taught at Cambridge, University of California at Berkeley, and Stanford
University. Hodders approach is often considered postmodern, although
interpretive and post-structuralist are more descriptive as he makes connections
between objects, symbols, and people. Whereas structuralists often created or
constructed a system of meaning, post-structuralists, like Hodder, attempt to
examine the individual components to expose the relationships in a sort of
14 Kate Duncan, 1001 Curious Things: Ye Olde Curiosity Shop and Native American Art (Seattle
and London: University of Washington Press, 2000), 64.
15 Ibid.
21


deconstructive manner. His emphasis upon cultural meanings and context
incorporates these connections with history and ethnoarcheology. Hodders
Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology (1986)
expands upon the structural object-subject binary perspective with contextual
interpretation by stating, ...objects tell us their cultural meaning, but on the other
hand they are totally mute. The interpretation of meaning is constrained by the
interpretation of context.16 As an archeologist, Hodder presents a different
perspective with regard to collecting; highlighting the importance of interpretation
and context where objects are concerned.
Eilean Hooper-Greenhill -
Material Culturist. Museologist
Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, as the Director of the Research Center for Museums and
Galleries at the University of Leicester, is one of the current leaders in the museum
studies field. Hooper-Greenhills work concentrates on various museum models
and their various approaches to epistemology and communication within the
museum context. Her interest in communication is tied closely to hermeneutics
and the discourse within the museum as an institution illustrates not only a
methodology, but also an understanding of how museums function. Hooper-
Greenhill emphasizes the transition that has occurred in how museums have been
16 Ian Hodder, Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1986), 5.
22


defined and understood culturally, and the context museums create in themselves.
Hooper-Greenhills perspective on collecting is primarily focused within the
changing museum context and how items in groups are meaningful. From this
position, she asks, If new taxonomies mean new ways of ordering and
documenting collections, then do the existing ways in which collections are
organised mean that taxonomies are in fact socially constructed rather than true
or rational?17
Shepard Krech III
Anthropologist, Social Scientist, Historian
Shepard Krech III has written several books about collecting and Native American
culture from anthropological, historical, and critical perspectives. Like Duncan,
Krechs publications are invaluable to an understanding of American collecting
practices including Collecting Native America: 1870 1960 (1999) and The
Ecological Indian: Myth and History (1999). In addition to posing provocative
questions about Native American culture and material goods, Krech challenges
myths and assumptions made by Euro-Americans about Native Americans, and by
Native Americans about themselves. Krech offers evidence for the rejection of
such inaccurate mythologies within the broad contemporary contexts of museums,
ecology, preservation, nature, identity, and social and political relations.
17 Eileen Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge (London and New York:
Routledge Press, 1992), 5.
23


Paul Martin
Material Culturist, Social Theorist
Paul Martin, also a professor at the University of Leicester, brings another unique
perspective to the discourse surrounding collecting and contemporary mainstream
culture. His book, Popular Collecting and the Everyday Self: The Reinvention of
Museums? (1999) illustrates the impact that mainstream collecting has had on
traditional notions of museums and collecting practices. Martin argues that,
...contemporary popular collecting has grown as a result of an underlying social
anxiety. In contrast to other scholars, Martin observes collecting as a sort of
manifestation or expression of social values, and utilizes the phenomenon of
popular collecting as tangible evidence for the existence of socially constructed
systems of meaning and their impacts.
Susan Pearce -
Hermeneuticist, Psvchohistoricist, Social Theorist
Also working out of the University of Leicester, Susan Pearce currently serves as
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Professor of Museum Studies. Pearces work,
including The Collectors Voice: Critical Readings in the Practice of Collecting,
vol. 2: Early Voices (2000) brings the human psychological element of meaning
into collecting. In this second volume, Pearce allows collectors to speak on their 18
18 Paul Martin, Popular Collecting and the Everyday Self: The Reinvention of Museums? (London
and New York: Leicester University Press, 1999), 1.
24


own behalf about collecting and their collections. Pearce illuminates the
importance of the relationships between people and things by explaining, Because
we and our world are material, and our ways of understanding are tied to the
physical reality of material, one of the prime ways in which this sense is created is
through the accumulation and juxtaposition of material things.19 20 Additionally,
unlike many other academics, Pearce illuminates the processes involved in
collecting and illustrates the motivation of collectors by citing primary sources,
including original correspondence, such as the following written in 1717 by John
Talman with regard to The Resta Collection,
Sir, I have lately seen a collection of Drawings,
without a doubt, the finest in Europe, for the
method and number of rare designs; nor is the
price considering the true value, all that much.
They were first collected by the famous Father
Resta, a Milanese, of the oratory of Philippo
Neri at Rome; a person so well known in Rome,
and all over Italy, for his skill in drawings, that
it would be needless to say any more of him, than
20
that these collections were made by him...
By reproducing and citing original texts, Pearce opens a window into the
experience of the collector and illuminates the complex relationships between
ownership, value, desirability, and tradition in the practice of collecting itself.
19 Susan Pearce and Ken Arnold, eds., The Collectors Voice: Critical Readings in the Practice of
Collecting, vol. 2: Early Voices. (Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2000), viii..
20 Ibid., 151.


I
I
Marjorie Swann -
Material Culturist, Historicist
Marjorie Swanns recent publication, Curiosities and Texts: The Culture of
Collecting in Early Modern England, is also certain to be one of the most
I
important texts on the complex subject of collecting. Her book not only provides a
clear historical context for understanding collecting in early Modem England, it
also highlights the systems created by collectors during the same period to assert
their knowledge and authority based upon their ability to collect and their intimate
relationship with the objects in their collections. In fact, Swann appears to be the
first author to point to the value-laden system crafted by collectors in which their
own recorded knowledge of material culture enhances the value of the collections
they possess, and ultimately become valuable in themselves. Swann essentially
points toward an intellectual and cultural lineage of collecting as an act, and she
begins to illuminate the consequences of collecting to those beyond the immediate,
somewhat incestuous, collecting community. Her broad-based, historically and
culturally grounded approach offers a fresh perspective from which future studies
can begin to address issues of conflict and the variety of cultural perspectives that
are now only beginning to come to light as the institution of collecting comes into
question.
26


W. Richard West -
Museum Director, Lawyer
W. Richard Wests The Changing Presentation of the American Indian: Museums
and Native Cultures (2000) signals a new direction for the contemporary study of
collecting and museology. West, the current director of the National Museum of
the American Indian, is Harvard and Stanford educated, and Southern Cheyenne
emphasizes the need to reintroduce Native voices into museum discourse. Toward
this goal, The Changing Presentation of the American Indian: Museums and
Native Cultures incorporates both Native American and non-Indian museum
professionals as a collection of critical essays on the subject of representation in
museums. The publication grew out of a 1995 symposium aimed at exploring the
ways in which Indians and their cultures have been represented by museums in
North America.21 Importantly, the symposium, and the subsequent publication
were not merely critical of museums, rather, they offered solutions and identified
new directions for museums through collaborative efforts and partnerships
between tribes and the institutions that exhibit and interpret Native American
material culture.
W. Richard West. The Changing Presentation of the American Indian: Museums and
Native Cultures. (Washington: University of Washington Press and Smithsonian Institution Press,
2000), 1.
27


The Intellectual Lineage
Susan Pearces methodological approach, although similar to Baudrillard,
Benjamin, Duncan, Hooper-Greenhill, Krech, Martin, Swann, and West is
particularly valuable because she is concerned with exposing the emotive elements
of the collectors themselves and the act, or process of collecting within a particular
historical and cultural context. Baudrillard, Benjamin, Brody, Duncan, Hodder,
Hooper-Greenhill, Krech, Martin, Pearce, Swann, and West are all concerned with
relationships between humans and the objects in their world. Each scholar has a
unique approach, of course, but the overall shift from object to subject is a product
of their shared historical moment in time. The consequences of these relationships
are only now beginning to be identified, examined, interpreted and understood.
This shift is extreme from the object-based perspective of Vasari and other early
art historians and art critics, and extends beyond the metaphysical responses of the
Enlightenment. In this light, Baudrillards abstractionism can be seen as a product
of the late modem and early postmodern periods. A product of and contributor to
the Frankfurt School, Benjamins employment of Karl Marxs theory of historical
(and/or dialectical) materialism is essential to any philosophically grounded
understanding of the cultural and social significance of collecting, and as such, is
most often identified with other critical theorists.
The intellectual threads that permeate the writings of Benjamin,
Baudrillard, Hodder, Hooper-Greenhill, Martin, Pearce, Swann, and West appear
28


to relate implicitly to Foucaults theories of power and identity. At the very least,
issues of epistemology, and the complex social, political, and economic facets
surrounding power and identity are present in each authors discussion. Having
shared in this philosophical framework, a decidedly European intellectual and
cultural heritage, as well as working within a very short period of time relative to
one another, it should not be surprising that the themes of the works are quite
similar on a fundamental level. Within this framework, the authors all fall under
the roof of social history, with modem, postmodern, and post-colonial influences.
Their emphasis upon structures, relationships, material culture, and human
interaction is evidence of these similarities.
Although Benjamin is perhaps the most notable for his forward thinking
and early attention to the subject of collecting, Hodder, Pearce, Swann, and West
present the most distinct variations within this group of scholars for their
approaches. The structuralist theories of Claude Levi-Strauss influence Hodder,
perhaps as a result of his archeological and anthropological experiences, although
his own discussions are most post-structuralist in nature as they deconstruct
relationships between people and material culture in to systems to illuminate
contextual meanings. Hodder articulates this position, saying, ... these realms of
material culture could now be seen as different contexts in relation to each other.
Artifacts might mean different things in different contexts, but the meanings from
29


one realm might be related, in a distorted way, to the meanings of other realms.22
Although Hodder stresses the importance of context and relationships, he is clearly
concerned with the structure of those relationships.
Susan Pearces approach incorporates voices previously unheard in the
discourse surrounding collecting. She provides a forum for these perspectives and
allows them to speak on their own behalf with a small degree of interpretation,
although the selection process itself interprets necessarily. This interpretive
element provides a context in which the collection of voices relates to one another
and can be understood. The attention paid by Pearce and her co-editors of The
Collectors Voice series is postmodern, or perhaps even Decolonial in its shift of
power and authority. Pearces influences also include psychology, or
psychohistory, as these insights into the thoughts and attitudes of the collectors
themselves become an important part of the dialogue.
Marjorie Swanns work makes an important contribution to the larger
intellectual lineage supporting the study of collecting because she represents an
emerging school of cultural critics interested in methodology and theory as well as
historical and cultural context. As such, Swann takes great care to emphasize the
importance of collecting over time, and she is careful to articulate the vast power
enjoyed by collectors during the early Modem period in England. As American
22
Ian Hodder. Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1986), 5.
30


collecting is intimately tied to European collecting, Swann provides a thorough
examination of the intellectual lineage nurtured in the United States. Swanns
argument is permeated with epistemological issues, and her writing serves the
disciplines of museology, anthropology, and material cultural studies well by
responsibly posing far more interesting questions and suggestions for future
avenues of research concerning collections, collectors, collecting, and culture than
she answers.
J. J. Brody, Kate Duncan, and Shepard Krech represent a more
contemporary, anthropologically-based, American intellectual lineage concerned
with cultural values and meanings of objects and how these meanings have
mediated social, political, and economic relations in the United States. These
American scholars bring a critical perspective to the discourse surrounding
collecting as they question museums, collectors, collecting, by challenging the
validity Euro-American gaze and its power alongside contemporary issues of
colonialism, exploitation, objectification, and prescribed systems that have
historically assigned subjective definitions of significance and quality with
discemable negative implications. These authors not only identify and examine
these complex aspects of collecting in the American context, but also identify
many of the consequences of the institution of collecting. Additionally, Brody,
Duncan, and Krech, through their methodological and theoretical investigations,
31


offer more socially relevant and responsible alternatives for addressing these
issues in a post-colonial era of multi-culturalism and multi-vocality.
Wests attention to multi-vocality, and his interest in empowering native
voices are also related to the current shift toward more socially relevant and
responsible alternatives for addressing the problematic qualities of traditional
museums and their consequences. In doing so, West, like Pearce, Martin, Swann,
and Krech, gets to an even deeper layer of museology and cultural critique by
emphasizing the experiences of Native Americans in relation to material culture in
the historic and contemporary museum context. In doing so, a complex system of
ideas relating to identity, cultural change, and power is exposed and begins to be
analyzed through intellectual discussions, that is discourse, within the framework
of symposiums, scholarly publications, museum exhibits, and interpretive text.
Considering the many scholars who have written about art, art history,
collectors, collections, and collecting, only a select few of whom are identified
here, it becomes apparent that the attitudes and themes surrounding art, objects,
and their collection have changed drastically over time and are continuing to
evolve. What began as an interest in objects of art for their aesthetic value has
changed over time to include other areas of interest such as monetary value,
symbols of knowledge, truth, and wealth, intellectual and political power, identity,
as well as, the expression of economic, social, and cultural capital and aesthetic
preference, or taste, in terms of the collector. This shift should be understood as a
32


pulsing continuum rather than as moments of drastic change, as each of these
elements remains an important, inter-related component of the larger complex,
contemporary museum discourse and informs the framework and interests of
following phases in a dialectical fashion, each building upon the other, yet
simultaneously responding to and rejecting earlier notions. Thus, it is desirable to
consider the mutability of the discourse as manifestations or responses to the larger
changing intellectual and cultural themes of the moment, within a historical
framework, rather than reactions, re-inventions, or re-definitions without a
referent.
Relevant Questions
The types of questions the scholars and subject-matter experts ask make
visible the evolving discourse about collecting. Whereas Vasari may have looked
at a painting and asked who painted it and of what material is the pigment
composed, Kantian or Enlightenment scholars may have questioned the inherent
beauty of the piece. Walter Benjamin might have attempted to expose the
intimacy felt by the collector to the fine individual piece, while in contrast, Hodder
might have searched for symbols or signs to interpret and connect to a particular
cultural context and moment in time. Baudrillard might have questioned the
reality of the idea of the painting, while Hooper-Greenhill would have wondered
what the painting, within the museum context, can tell us about the history of
33


painting or how art is valued. J. J. Brody might have focused on collecting
through an examination of a particular collection from an art historical perspective
and Kate Duncan would undoubtedly consider the historical moment in time and
the social influences. Stephen Krech would certainly challenge the assumptions
that affect the degrees of understanding between cultural groups and how those
assumptions relate to existing social political structures. Paul Martin, would likely
view the painting as part of a legacy, or tradition of making things that in turn
could be consumed and collected. Susan Pearce might look for a letter, document,
or other item to consider along with the painting in an effort to provide insight into
how people felt about or have related to the piece over time. Swann might place
the collection, and its collector in historical and cultural context, and begin to
articulate the epistemological issues surrounding the collection. Finally, West
would certainly address the collection in terms of its significance to the cultures
that produced it, carefully critiquing the collection and the way it is exhibited in
relation to living communities. By creating a forum for non-Indians and Native
Americans to explore the problematic and positive aspects of exhibiting material
culture in a museum setting, West would simultaneously question and critically
address the objects in the collection and the cultural context within a museum
setting.
34


Themes in Publications
Although each of the authors discussed have approached collecting,
collectors, and collections differently, several common themes are evident in their
work. Themes of power, the gaze, and identity including otherness, permeate
various aspects of each authors work explicitly or implicitly. Hodders 1986 book,
Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology, is clearly
influenced by structural and post-structural notions of social dynamics, culture,
signs, signifiers, symbols, systems, and relationships between humans and objects.
Hodder concerns himself first and foremost with objects. However, as an
archeologist he himself engages in the active practice of collecting. Hodders
emphasis on interpretation and the role of individuals within a culture in relation to
social structures and relationships, including political, economic, and gender, sets
him apart from the other authors and ties him most closely to Foucault. Hodders
writing is very straightforward as he incorporates a very cross-disciplinary
approach and avoids highly technical jargon. His sources, unlike Benjamin,
extend far beyond archeology into other related philosophies with a great emphasis
on non-Westem perspectives.
Eilean Hooper-Greenhills 1992 publication, Museums and the Shaping of
Knowledge, brings together many different disciplinary perspectives to further her
arguments on communication and knowledge within the museum as a context.
Hooper-Greenhill emphasizes Foucault in particular and uses his epistemes as a
35


way of organizing various different museum types. Broader in context than
Hodders work, Hooper-Greenhill does not appear concerned with individuals, or
particular social, political, economic, or gender issues, but rather, she views
museums as forums in which learning takes place through relationships. Many of
these specialized relationships are power-laden, and power is manifested
throughout museums in a manner similar to that characterized by Foucault Power
is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from
everywhere.
Popular Collecting and the Everyday Self: The Reinvention of Museums?
(1999) by Paul Martin reflects a more youthful perspective on collecting. Martin
focuses on the present state of collecting but refers to the larger tradition, or
history of collecting to further his points. He speaks extensively about economy
and market forces as well as social influences that have shaped the definition and
practice of collecting in the recent past. Martin addresses collecting on the
individual, small group, and community level, and, as a result, offers a much more
realistic view of what collecting has evolved into. Whereas Hodder mentions the
position of the individuals in relation to material culture, Martin points to the
tendency of contemporary culture to move more and more toward individuality on 23
23 Michel Foucault. The History of Sexuality, Volume One: An Introduction. 1976. Translated by
Robert Hurley. (New York: Pantheon, 1978), 93.
36


a societal level, often at the expense of the community. His commentary is a
flagrant, rather than an implicit call to action for museums and other institutions of
collecting to work together with individuals to foster knowledge.
J. J. Brodys Indian Painters and White Patrons (1971) identifies and
exposes power structures and cross-cultural relationships are identified and
exposed within the context of Euro-American patron and Native-American artist
relationships. The notion of consumerism, and art as a product that can be created
and altered to suit the subjective aesthetic criteria of an outside audience, such as
Euro-American patrons, museums, and collectors, begins to take shape. Brody
raises questions of authenticity and begins to challenge definitions of quality and
significance formed by patrons and imposed on Native American artists. As
Brody recognizes, these relationships, while often mutually beneficial, are part of a
larger socio-economic system established by European colonialism in the uniquely
complex American context.
In 1001 Curious Things: Ye Olde Curiosity Shop and Native American Art
(2000), Kate Duncan focuses her study on a number of themes including Euro-
American fascination, or curiosity with the cultural or ethnic other, who are non-
Euro-American and Native American. Duncan also looks at the context of
consumption and collecting by focusing on several important collectors and
collections including Joseph Standley, George Gustav Heye, The Heye Collection,
and the Museum of the American Indian. One of the most important themes that
37


Duncan addresses is the process of the development of collections. Duncan also
asserts that, The intention of a museum its purpose and mission informs its
collection policy and influences the way it collects.24 Thus, Duncan introduces
the power not only of the collectors gaze and aesthetic which influences the items
collected, but also the power of the institutions gaze and manufactured aesthetic
and their impacts on collecting practices and collections within the museum
context.
Shepard Krechs Collecting Native America, 1870-1960 (1999) offers a
view from one of the United States most respected public institutions, the
Smithsonian. Krechs book is both critical and reflective as he turns an eye toward
the museum and its collection. Krech considers how the collection was amassed
over time, and offers important insights into how massive ethnographic
collections, such as the Smithsonians, have come to define Native American
cultures, and their material goods, for millions of people. Thus, through its
collection and collecting practices, the Smithsonian institution has played a
powerful role similar to that of David T. Vernon as an individual collector, in
framing Native American identities and how they are understood through the
exhibition of American Indian art and artifacts.
24
Kate Duncan, 1001 Curious Things: Ye Olde Curiosity Shop and Native American Art. (Seattle
and London: University of Washington Press, 2000), 94.
38


The Collectors Voice: Critical Readings in the Practice of Collecting, vol.
2: Early Voices, edited by Susan Pearce and Paul Martin, is obviously a product of
Susan Pearces methodological approach. Pearce is the primary scholar behind the
four-volume series aimed at understanding the process of collecting rather than the
objects that make up collections. This process-concentrated approach is very
unlike the more traditional, scholarly approach of the other authors, as Pearce
herself does little of the actual writing. Rather, she and Paul Martin act as
collectors themselves, carefully assembling correspondence and other documents
from particular periods in an effort to illustrate the variability in ideas about
collecting. Pearce also emphasizes, unlike the other authors, the European history
of collecting as a practice and relates this connection to the formation of identities
as they are understood and expressed in Western culture. As she and Martin are
the only authors developing the idea of identity in relation to objects and
collecting, Pearce introduces a psychological factor that is absent in the writings of
most other authors considering collections. As a result, Pearce puts forth the most
diverse and complex methodological approach of analyzing collecting aside from
those building from psychological perspectives, such as Werner Muensterberger.
Within her 2001 publication, Curiosities and Texts: The Culture of
Collecting in Early Modern England, Marjorie Swann focuses on and refers to the
origins of English collecting. Similarly, she identifies her intellectual influences
through primarily European scholars including Susan Pearce. Although Swanns
39


work focuses upon a specific period of collecting fixed historically and socially,
the themes she introduces, especially those centered around power structures and
the consequences of collecting, are contributions in numerous ways to the more
general body of literature on the subject of collecting. Swann outlines the
relationships between influential collectors and simultaneously traces the
progression of collecting from back storerooms and comer curiosity shops to
museums as cultural institutions.
The 2000 publication that arose out of symposium titled, The Changing
Presentation of the American Indian: Museums and Native Cultures is an
important step by the Countrys largest museum institution, the Smithsonian
National Museum of the American Indian. The symposium and the book critically
challenge museums generally as institutions and attempt to reintroduce living
native voices to the discourse surrounding collecting to address many of the
missing elements described here. The inspiration for the symposium and Wests
subsequent publication of the same name supports the motivation for this thesis.
Steven Lavine and Ivan Karp in Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of
Museum Display (1991) expand upon the themes of power, the gaze, and identity
that permeate Wests publication and motivate his criticism, "If the museum
community continues to explore this multicultural and intercultural terrain
consciously and deliberately, in spite of the snares that may await, it can play a
40


role in reflecting and mediating the claims of various groups, and perhaps help
construct a new idea of ourselves as a nation."25
What is Missing
The literature is beginning to explore include a fascination with the ethnic
other by collectors and mainstream Euro-American culture. Also lacking in the
body of literature are issues of colonialism, the power of the colonial gaze imposed
by individual collectors and museum institutions, identity, and problematic
subjective definitions of quality and significance particularly concerning
collecting and scholarship on the subject of collecting. Illustrating the power of
discourse these histories and analyses are changing the way in which all aspects of
collecting are viewed. This change characterizes a shift from the importance of
the work of art toward an emphasis on the complexity of the collectors, viewers,
and creators relationship to the objects. Although these contributions are
inherently valuable as the study of collecting continues to mature, the field is sure
to grow richer with the incorporation of additional considerations. The fascination
with the other, as manifested most often through ethnographic collections, is
interesting in that it contains elements of colonialism, capitalism, and intellectual
and social power, as well as culturally informed and subjectively created
25 Lavine, S. and Karp, I. (eds.) Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display.
(Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991), 10.
41


aesthetics, plus issues of identity. Ethnographic collections thus become a forum
for competing systems of values and meaning between collectors, museum
administrators, the viewing audience, and the creators of the objects. Within the
forum, definitions of quality and significance by an individual and a group
challenge the definitions of another, resulting in tangible, economic, political, and
social implications for all involved.
Additionally, American Indian and art and artifacts collected by non-
Indians are but one example of this fascination with the other evident in the act or
process of collecting. No body of literature exists that takes into account the
history of collecting in the United States, the personal history of an American
collector, the legacy that the collection has created, the competing systems of
value and meaning embodied by the collection, and the impact of the collection on
Native American cultures from a cross-disciplinary approach. These themes are
provocative and complex and deserve further scholarship and broad-based
investigation.
42


CHAPTER 3
THE NEED FOR AN EXPLORATORY CASE STUDY
!
Rarely do critical discussions on the subject of collecting include a
discussion of American collectors, especially those who had actively collected
volumes of American Indian material culture during the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. Likewise, there is an absence of material regarding how and
why such collectors amassed the ethnographic items they often did, and the
lingering consequences of their collecting actions. In response to this lack of
scholarly attention, this case study examines David T. Vernon. This case study
also examines his role in the preservation of American Indian material culture as
seen in contemporary museums, and in particular, the Colter Bay Visitor Center
and Indian Arts Museum in Grand Teton National Park that enjoys over one
million visitors during its annual open season of five months.
V
Figure 3.1. A rattle from the David T. Vernon Collection, 2002,
Courtesy of the National Park Service.
43


Bringing together aspects of anthropology, museology, history, art history,
connoisseurship, American studies, and material culture studies, can advance an
exploratory case study focusing on David T. Vernon as an American collector. The
collection and its collector has had a lasting impression on how millions upon
millions of people have come to understand Native North American art, artifacts,
and culture in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. As parameters for
understanding past and contemporary peoples, it is imperative to look critically at
not only the individual items that make up the collection, but also at the individual
who purposefully assembled the items into groups based upon a variety of his
subjective definitions of quality and significance. Just as the materials themselves
are not neutral, as each stems from a particular moment in time and reflects social,
cultural, artistic, political, economic, and gendered perspectives, the collector who
assembled the items into groups based upon personal criteria derives from an
equally complex set of historical and cultural circumstances. This essential
assumption of historical contingency and context based on Foucaults theories
forms the basis for this case study.
Only during recent decades have anthropologists, art historians, museum
curators, and historians begun to look more closely at the framework surrounding
the objects in American ethnographic collections. Janet Catherine Berio refers to
44


Figure 3.2. A Crow shirt from the David T. Vernon Collection, 2002,
Courtesy of the National Park Service.
this shift as a dramatic re-evaluation of the paradigms of both anthropology and
art history.26 1 argue that the shift has taken place on a much larger cultural and
philosophical scale affected by the postmodern critique of culture. The
postmodern critique, or challenge, has introduced an unprecedented element of
multivocality and shifts in power to the discourse. The postmodern period has
introduced new voices including (but not limited to) previously marginalized
groups such as Native Americans, Blacks, Hispanics, gays, and women, and also a
challenge to scholars to look suspiciously at their own intellectual history and the
history of their discipline(s). This reflective and self-critical eye evoked a great
response from several individuals interested in ethnographic museum collections,
26 Janet Catherine Berio, ed., The Early Years of Native American Art History: The Politics and
Scholarship of Collecting. (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1992), ix.
45


Figure 3.3. Examples of spoons and other utensils from
the David T. Vernon Collection, 2002,
Courtesy of the National Park Service.
both in the United States and abroad, through books and articles, as well as
symposia on the subject of collecting and collectors of the objects comprising
these ethnographic collections. This attention to The Collectors Voice, as
highlighted by Susan Pearce and Kenneth Arnolds 2000 publication, is bringing
an entirely new perspective to museum discourse.
The following case study focuses on Vernons sense of significance and
quality as expressed in his multi-million dollar collection of ethnographic objects
representing over two hundred distinct cultural groups (Figure 3.4). Additionally,
the study analyzes Vernons motivation and method for collecting, as well as the
transition of the collection from Vernons private possession to public property.
46


Figure 3.4. David T. Vernon at home with his personal collection,
n.d., Courtesy of the National Park Service.
The context of the current exhibition and curation spaces housing the collection,
and the consequences of the exhibition of the collection to the general public and
more importantly, to the tribes who claim cultural affiliation to the objects in the
collection and are historically associated with the collection are also identified as
critical aspects. Questioning the power of the colonial gaze, employed by Vernon
throughout his collecting practices is another important element of the study as
well. Finally, the critique focuses on Vernon as a prominent American collector
and his collection in the larger context of museum studies and anthropology in the
contemporary global, academic context.
47


I
CHAPTER 4
DAVID T. VERNON AS AN AMERICAN COLLECTOR
The mid- to late-nineteenth century saw the establishment of Americas
most revered museums. The Smithsonian Institution was established in 1846,
Harvards Peabody Museum in 1856, and New Yorks American Museum of
Natural History in 1869. It was during this period that many anthropologists,
such as Alice C. Fletcher, supported the passage of the United States Dawes
General Allotment (Severalty) Act, dated February 8, 18 87.27 28 29 Although the Dawes
Act is now commonly known to have resulted in the decimation of most tribes,
many argue that the original intentions of some of the supporters of the Act were
preservation minded. As Janet Catherine Berio points out, other anthropologists,
including Hamilton Cushing and Franz Boas, feverishly gathered objects and
information from American Indians during this period as they too saw that Indian
29
culture was in peril, and believed that they should save its vestiges for science.
It is within this historical, political, social context, and spirit of preservation of the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that David T. Vernon began actively
27 Ibid., 2.
28 Public Broadcasting System, New Perspectives on the West: Alice Fletcher, (The West Film
Project and WETA, 2001). Accessed
20 November 2002.
29 Janet Catherine Berio, ed., The Early Years of Native American Art History: The Politics and
Scholarship of Collecting. (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1992), 3.
48


assembling what was to become one of the least known, yet one of the most
diverse, high quality, and significant North American Indian collections in the eyes
of collectors and many Native Americans.
A Brief Biography
David T. Vernons interest in American Indian material culture originated
in his birthplace, Evanston, Illinois. According to Vernons own letters, in 1906,
Vernon, his father, and a man identified as Mr. Bob Harris visited a battleground
site near his boyhood home where he found several Sac (Sauk) and Fox projectile
points. It is interesting to note that of the 1,429 objects from Vernons personal
collection, Vernon and subsequent subject-matter specialists documented 39 items
as Sauk (Sac) and Fox in origin.30 31 Fike many young men in the early twentieth
century, Vernon headed west toward Montana and Wyoming, where he worked as
a cowboy and wrangler, or cowpuncher, as well as in the area in and around
Yellowstone National Park, where he gained interest in both Blackfeet and Crow
cultures (Figure 4.1).32 In spite of his boyhood interests, Vernon did not collect
during his days as a cowboy on the western frontier. Following his return to
30 David T. Vernon to Unknown, n.d., Grand Teton National Park, Colter Bay Visitor Center and
Indian Arts Museum.
31 Automated National Catalog System, Ver. 6.3. Grand Teton National Park, Moose, WY:
ReDiscovery. Accessed 10 August 2002.
32 Grand Teton Natural History Association, Treasures of the Past: Colter Bay Indian Arts
Museum Guide (Moose: Paragon Press, 1986), 7.
49


Illinois, Vernon worked as a professional commercial illustrator for the Vogue
Wright Advertising Company and simultaneously began actively collecting and
dealing in American Indian items.33 The period of Vernons most focused
collecting practices, the period in which he amassed his own personal collection,
ranged from the 1920s through the 1950s.
f
Figure 4.1. David T. Vernon working as a cowpuncher, n.d.,
Courtesy of the National Park Service.
In a 2002 news article, Hidden Museum Home to World-Class
Collection, Laine Thom, a recognized member of the Shoshone tribe and
internationally recognized subject-matter expert on Native American art, asserts
that Vernon collected over 10,000 American Indian objects dating from the early
33
Milford Chandler, David T. Vernon. Benson Langford, ed. (Unpublished Manuscript, N.D.), 5.
50


1830s through the 1920s.34 Thom goes on to mention that Vernon obtained the
majority of his pieces from other collectors, but that he often purchased items
directly from the tribes.35 Thom also mentions that although Vernon desired a
museum of his own, he began selling his personal collection in the 1950s when his
health began to fail. The 1,429 objects now identified as the David T. Vernon
Collection, currently located at the Colter Bay Visitor Center and Indian Arts
Museum within Grand Teton National Park, is a fraction of his original collection.
Jackson Hole Preserve, Incorporated on behalf of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
purchased the diverse collection of 1,429 American Indian art and artifacts directly
from David Vernon in the 1960s.
A 1951 newspaper article in the Evanston Review, Artist, Historian
Collaborate to Form New Firm Publish Western Documents, by an unknown
author outlined Vernons collecting methodology quite clearly, On collecting
trips, he will pick out the general area to visit, then obtain an interpreter-guide. He
brings along beads, eagle feathers, money and cigarettes to swing his bargains.36
Vernons variety of payment methods for the items he collected is interesting and
illustrates not only the economic power he had over the tribes he was trading with,
but also suggests his attitudes about his value of Native American material culture.
4 Deanna Darr, Hidden Museum Home to World-Class Collection, Jackson Hole Guide, 4
September 2002, A13.
35 Ibid.
36 Unknown, Artist, Historian Collaborate to Form New Firm Publish Western Documents,
Evanston Review, 5 September 1951.
51


Certainly, during the time in which he was collecting, he would not have
approached another established collector with beads or cigarettes to trade for an
artifact. Vernon's knowledge of collecting and the market value of Native
American artifacts to other collectors and museums placed him in a position of
power over the tribes with whom he dealt.
Throughout his lifetime of collecting, Vernon traveled throughout the West
visiting tribes on reservations and rubbing elbows with old-timers as well as the
collecting elite. In spite of his failing health later in life, he remarked in a letter to
friend and collector Milford Chandler that he had not lost any interest in
collecting and have picked up some good pieces. Following Vernons death in
January 1973, Vernons wife Ruth continued to clarify the significance of her
husbands collecting practices, including information regarding the close
relationships he forged with tribal members through communications with
National Park Service employee, Ellis Richard, curator of the Colter Bay Indian
Arts Museum in the early 1980s. Interestingly, little information about Vernons
wife can be found beyond her attempt further to articulate the importance of David
Vernons work after his death. Mrs. Vernon continued to promote her husbands
life work, even after his collection became the main focus of a museum. She knew 37
37 David T. Vernon, letter to Milford Chandler, n.d., circa 1970, Grand Teton National Park, Colter
Bay Visitor Center and Indian Arts Museum.
52


from correspondence with museum curators, that more knowledge about one of
Americas most significant collectors was desired, and by providing this
information and visiting the museum on occasion, she was also keeping the
faith with David.38
On Collecting Practices
Speaking of Vernons collecting practices, Milford Chandler, a
contemporary and personal friend of David T. Vernon, as well as a noteworthy
collector of American Indian art in his own right, acknowledged, I think Vernon
was the most avid of us collectors at that time. He really put forth the effort and
managed to raise money for a worthwhile piece in a surprising manner.39
Coming from Milford Chandler, one of two men who assembled the well-known
Chandler-Pohrt Collection, and one of the most respected collectors of
ethnographic objects in the history of American collecting, the significance of
Chandlers account of Vernon simply cannot be overstated. Vernon and Chandler
were part of a small, yet influential group of collectors, many from the Midwest,
who defined American Indian ethnographic collections in the United States
through their collecting practices. Their subjective, carefully crafted shared
definitions of quality and significance can be seen in the consistency of the objects
38 Letters from Mrs. David T. Vernon to Richard Ellis and Charles McCurdy, 12 January 1980,
Colter Bay Visitor Center and Indian Arts Museum, Grand Teton National Park.
39 Ibid., 4.
53


they chose to collect and how they were identified, examined, discussed, traded,
bought, sold, and exhibited as objects. The definitions of quality and significance
created by the collectors relate directly to the positions of power they also shared
in relation to Native Americans and Native American art and artifacts. This
colonial gaze was and continues to be a kind of active vision that relates originally
to Sartres existentialism, but was expanded upon later by Beauvior and Michel
Foucault. Foucault described the gaze in The Birth of the Clinic: an Archeology of
Medical Perception as a sort of wise, penetrating, omnipotent, act of seeing
informed through institutionalized education.40 Much like quality and
significance, this gaze is not neutral, and in fact, as Foucault points out, the results
of power can be problematic. In the museum context, the gaze objectifies the art,
artifacts, collections, and peoples that are placed under its power in an interrelated
system. The enthusiasm and care with which Vernon collected and exerted his
own gaze resulted in an assemblage of extremely high quality items within the
small, specific framework of quality and significance as defined by early twentieth
century American ethnographic collectors through their shared gaze. Chandler
further described Vernons attention to detail and their shared definition of quality
by affirming, David T. Vernon showed himself to be very discriminating in
selecting quality specimens for the collection.41
40
Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic: an Archeology of Medical Perception. (A. M.
Sheridan Smith, trans.) (1963; reprint New York: Vintage Books, 1975), 108.
41 Milford Chandler, David T. Vernon. Benson Langford, ed. (Unpublished Manuscript, N.D.), 6.
54


Following a visit to the Colter Bay Indian Arts Museum in Grand Teton
National Park in August of 2002, Johnathan King, Curator of North American Arts
at the British Museum in London, made the following comments concerning the
quality and diversity of the collection in a brief report to the National Park Service:
The Museum includes 1,429 objects, largely from the
Great Lakes and American Plains, dating to the period
1850-1920, of consistent beauty and great diversity in
ethnic origins. It is of significant quality, much finer
than that for instance of the Nelson Gallery, Kansas
City, and similar to, though smaller than those at the
Detroit Institute of Arts and Denver Art Museum.42
Clearly, one of the most important criteria of collecting for David T. Vernon was
quality as he understood it rather than quantity as an objective standard. Vernons
fellow early collectors, including Milford Chandler and Benson Langford, and
contemporary scholars and museum professionals such as Johnathan King and
Laine Thom recognized and confirmed Vernons sense of quality and significance.
The quality and significance of the collection, discemable to Vernons peers,
including current museum professionals such as Chandler and King, indicates a
vocabulary shared by such similarly discriminating, elite, subject-matter
specialists. This vocabulary and gaze are evident in comparing Figure 4.2,
showing Vernon with his collection with Figure 4.3, showing the collection of
42 Johnathan King, letter to Cyd Martin, 23 August 2002, Grand Teton National Park.
55


Figure 4.2. David T. Vernon at home examining his personal
collection, n.d., Courtesy of the National Park Service.
Figure 4.3. A photograph of an Indian corner that
J. E. Standley had arranged in his home,
n.d.43
43 Ibid., 117.
56


J. E. Standley. The cluttering of objects against the walls in both photographs
clearly shows that the items were not treated by either collector as objects of fine
art in an European museum or gallery sense. Rather, the objects in the two
photographs are arranged decoratively to illustrate the diversity of the exotic
treasures in the collectors possession and the worldliness of the collectors
themselves. In this way, the collections can be seen as expressions of wealth,
knowledge, and power. As the vocabulary of collecting developed through the
collecting practices of Vernon and other early collectors of American Indian art
and artifacts, it came to define a particular canonical aesthetic of quality,
significance, and taste, and in the words of Joseph Standley, just what a first
Class Museum should have.44 Thus, early collectors of American Indian objects
defined not only quality and significance of Native American material culture, but
also the value of the items by determining the content of ethnographic museum
collections. In the end, Vernon and his peers defined museum quality as it
continues to be understood today. Thus, contemporary museum collections
manifest the effect of this collectors gaze, knowledge, and power in a Foucauldian
sense.
In addition to compiling his own personal collection, Vernon collected for
the Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and items he collected are dispersed
44
Kate Duncan, 1001 Curious Thing: Ye Olde Curiosity Shop and Native American Art (Seattle
and London: University of Washington Press, 2000), 85.
57


through many of North Americas finest public and private ethnographic
collections. David Vernons collection has also been tied to the Heye Collection
although documentation is sparse. Photographs of the items he collected are
frequently found in publications, including multiple books by C.J. Bradford of the
Colorado Historical Society, and Laine Thom who have used objects in the Vernon
Collection as evidence for scholarly work on the subject of traditional Native
American dress and as symbols of manhood in Native American cultures. The
reverence for the Vernon collection by both Bradford and Thom is also important,
as they are both not only museum scholars, but also current Native Americans.
The diversity represented in Vernons collection is yet another fascinating
and observable feature of his collecting practices. The David T. Vernon Collection
comprises objects representing approximately two hundred tribes. Though the
majority of the collection derives from the Great Lakes and American Plains
regions, the collection includes Northwest Coast items such as spoons and ladles
identified as Haida in origin as well as Hopi, Inuit (Eskimo), and Chumush
materials just to name a few. Well-known collector and subject matter expert
Milford Chandler considered the assemblage to be a representative collection of
K
diversified American Indian cultures. In fact, Chandler felt that Vernon was 45
45 Milford Chandler, David T. Vernon. Benson Langford, ed. (Unpublished Manuscript, N.D.), 4.
58


such a significant collector, and that Vernons collection was so important, that he
wrote a biographical account of David T. Vernon that was in turn edited by fellow
collector Benson Langford. In addition to collecting items from a large quantity of
cultural groups, Vernon also collected a wide variety of materials. Unlike many
collections limited in scope to clothing or tools, the Vernon collection contains
toys, moccasins, war bonnets, shields, pipes, cradle boards, mirror bags, blanket
sashes, spoons, jewelry, baskets, pottery, rugs, and countless other items. Thus,
Vernons eye for artistic quality and craftsmanship is visible through the diversity
of materials, as well as the variety.
As a collector, Vernon focused on more traditional or historic items, and
he avoided modem items with non-traditional elements. Again, through his
collecting practices, and those of his contemporaries, Vernon helped to define the
traditional elements of Native American material culture. These traditional
items, as yet another essential part of the collectors vocabulary, came to define
what was and what continues to be desirable qualities of American Indian
ethnographic collections. The effects of Vernons discerning eye and colonial
gaze are problematic because they are not necessarily reflective of American
Indian definitions of quality, significance, and tradition. Rather, Vernons gaze
redefined quality, significance, and tradition into a static, unchanging view of
American Indian materials culture and, as a byproduct, American Indians. Objects
collected by Vernon may have had little significance to American Indians, or
59


perhaps were not considered by the tribes to be particularly unique or inherently
valuable in a cultural or artistic sense. The reclassification of quality, significance,
and tradition by Vernon and other early collectors of American Indian materials
illustrates the problematic aspects of the legacy they have left behind. This raises a
provocative question whether the Vernon collection and other similar collections
are ethnographic resources, and if so, by whose definition?
Vernons knowledge of American Indian material culture and eye for
quality and high artistic value, as he came to define them, continues to be viewed
by contemporary collectors and scholars as highly skilled, refined connoisseurship.
Vernons skill as a collector is particularly outstanding given the lack of written
information available during the early twentieth century on the subject of
American Indian art and artifacts. During this period of feverish collecting and
documentation by North American museums, traders, anthropologists, art
historians, and collectors (both laymen and professionals), Vernon succeeded in
developing a private collection of superior museum quality based largely on his
own aesthetic and personal experience. Vernons gaze developed in concert with
the emerging vocabulary of the developing field of collectors and museum curators
and their shared views. Their shared vocabulary is evident in the consistency of
quality and type of Native American material culture found in ethnographic
museum collections across the United States and the world.
60


Vernons Illustrative Aesthetic
Notwithstanding the consideration his contemporaries gave to him, as well
as a small group of subject-matter specialists today, Vernon worked primarily as a
commercial illustrator out of Chicago, Illinois, not as a collector or dealer, during
this busy and important time in American art history and the history of collecting.
While Vernon was well connected and respected as a collector, dealer, and trader
of American Indian art and artifacts by his contemporaries, examples of his
illustrative work, for which he was also known, are difficult to locate.
A small sampling of publications including Vernons own illustrations
resides in the little-known library at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in
Jackson, Wyoming as well as the Western History Department of the Denver
Public Library. A relatively well-known publication, North From Texas: Incidents
in the Early Life of a Range Cowman in Texas, Dakota, and Wyoming 1852-1883,
is but one of many books which lists David T. Vernon as the illustrator or
decorator and in which his renderings document a version of the American West
landscape through Vernons romantic eyes.
As early as 1951, a newspaper article written by Genevieve Flavin cited the
connection between Vernons collecting practices and his illustrative work, All
pieces are important to collector Vernon because each has served to aid his art.
They are part of the background for his illustrations on western cattle history and
61


early American business vignettes planned for publication.46 47 By deconstructing
the elements of Vernons art and the collection from a postmodern perspective,
clear associations between Vernons own artistic ability, style, and critical eye for
collecting become evident. His historically accurate yet romanticized illustrations
serve as yet another opportunity to explore the relationship between Vernon, his
collection, and his collecting practices. The associations are visible in the figures
below through their attention to detail, the careful crafting of the Indians and
cowmens clothing and accessories, as well as the romantic treatment of their
activities.
Figure 4.4. One of Vernons illustrations from North From Texas,
1952.47
46 Genevieve Flavin, Arrow Flints Hit Bulls-Eye in Boys Mind, The Evanston Review, n.d.
47 J. C. Shaw. North From Texas: Incidents in the Early Life of a Range Cowman in Texas and
Wyoming, 1852-1883. (Evanston: Branding Iron Press, 1952), 27.
62


Figure 4.5. One of Vernons illustrations from Stock Raising in the
Northwest, 1951.48
Figure 4.6. One of Vernons illustrations from North From Texas,
1952.49
48 G. Weis. Stock Raising in the Northwest, 1884. (Evanston: Branding Iron Press, 1952), 9.
49 J. C. Shaw. North From Texas: Incidents in the Early Life of a Range Cowman in Texas and
Wyoming, 1852-1883. (Evanston: Branding Iron Press, 1952), 57.
63


In addition to dozens of Vernons pen and ink illustrations depicting
romantic views of the American West translated through his own unique lenses,
Vernon was also known as a successful painter. Similar romantic
characterizations of the American West are visible in the work of other artists,
including the drawings, paintings, and sculptures of Frederic Remington (1861-
1909). In his biography of Vernon, Milford Chandler noted that Vernon sketched
and photographed many of the American Indian items he collected for the
purposes of documentation. However, Chandler noted that he is unsure whether
any of the renderings or photographs survived.50 Stylistically, Chandler compared
Vernons work in paint to Winold Reiss, but because the whereabouts of Vernons
paintings are unknown, the similarity cannot be investigated further. They are
interesting to consider none-the-less as they relate to Vernons aesthetic and gaze,
therefore substituting two of Reisss works help to demonstrate Vernons romantic
view and carefully crafted definitions of Native Americans. In Reisss paintings,
as in Vernons pen and ink illustrations, a clear vision of Vernons American West
and traditional Native American culture and identity begins to develop. Vernons
personal experiences, including his travel, collecting practices, and close
50 Milford Chandler, David T. Vernon. Benson Langford, ed. (Unpublished Manuscript, n.d.), 5.
64


Figure 4.7. Winold Reiss. Nobody Has
Pity on Me or Burton Bearchild,
1948 (Burlington Northern
Railroad).
Figure 4.8. Winold Reiss. Floyd Middle
Rider, 1948 (Burlington
Northern Railroad).
65


relationship with his contemporary collectors, clearly helped define his collecting
vocabulary, gaze, and aesthetic as much as his artistic expression. The power of
Vernons romantic gaze, and his ability to define quality, significance, and
tradition of Native American material culture was reified through his art.
Likewise, he had the power to characterize American Indian identity through his
illustrations and collecting practices. Vernons romanticism is visible through his
attention to include what he defined as traditional elements and through his
idealized view of the American West, its landscape, and all of its characters.
Similarities between the shirt in Figure 3.2 and the clothing in Figure 4.4 are
unmistakable and further illustrate the point that Vernons illustrations were an
extension of the definitions of quality, significance, and identity he used to inform
his collecting practices.
In spite of his great success as a collector and dealer in American Indian
objects, and after retiring as a professional illustrator and former president of
Vernon, Stephens and Hall Magazine Illustrators, Vernon continued to explore
publishing and illustrating. In 1951, he co-founded the Branding Iron Press with
Herbert O. Brayer, an assistant professor of Western history at Northwestern
University. In 1951, the Evanston Review highlighted Vernons private
museum of Indian articles on the second floor of his home...said to be the largest
66


collection in the country of woodland and plains Indian material.51 Thus, Vernon
continued to perpetuate his carefully crafted notions of American Indians and the
value of their material culture through his collecting practices and illustrative work
throughout his life.
Transition into the Museum Context
David T. Vernon died on January 12, 1973, just months after the dedication
of the Colter Bay Visitor Center and Indian Arts Museum. Prior to Vernons
death, John D. Rockefeller Jr., through his conservation organization, Jackson
Hole Preserve, Inc., purchased Vernons small remaining personal collection of
American Indian art and artifacts. Laurance S. Rockefeller, son of John D.
Rockefeller Jr., offered to loan the David T. Vernon Collection to Grand Teton
National Park in 1967, and planning for the Colter Bay Indian Arts Museum began
shortly thereafter. The Museum, located in a remote, but developed area deep
inside Grand Teton National Park, situated in northwestern Wyoming, was
designed specifically to house the David T. Vernon Collection, opened in 1972,
and the items have been on exhibit since that time. Rockefeller donated the
Vernon Collection to Grand Teton National Park in 1976, along with the accession
and catalog records dating from the period of Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc.
ownership.
67


The Jackson Hole Guide heralded the dedication of the Colter Bay Visitor
Center and Indian Arts Museum in 1972 as the Park Services finest
accomplishment in museum field.52 53 54 Present at the dedication was David T.
Vernon; Chris Vernon (son of Ruth and David T. Vernon); Laurance S.
Rockefeller, donator of the collection to the National Park Service; Gary E.
Everhardt, Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park; Edmund B. Thornton,
Chairman of the National Parks Centennial Commission; Robert Robertson,
personal representative of Spiro Agnew, Vice President of the United States; and
Herman St. Clair, Chief of the Eastern Shoshone tribe; as well as numerous other
tribal members from the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes and Jackson community
supporters. Sam Nipwater, a Shoshone elder shared the important connection
between the museum objects, the landscape of Grand Teton National Park and the
Teton Valley, and the Shoshone and Shoshone-Bannock living communities,
Ill say this just in a few words before I go
ahead with my prayer. This country -
where we are today (it) has been told to
me by my own people...Bannock-Shoshones
of Idaho and Shoshones of Wyoming, and so
this country is for those people, not any
other people. They used to live here and
there, winter down here in this country. And
so I am here.53 54
52 Unknown, This Land is Our Land, Jackson Hole Guide, 6 July 1972.
53 Ibid.
54 NOTE: The statement could be deconstructed, analyzed, and interpreted within the postmodern
context, much like the Vernon collection. However, for the purposes of this study, the significance
is in the connection between living communities and their relationships to Teton Valley.
68


For nearly thirty years, the David T. Vernon Collection has been on exhibit
and visited by the public annually during May, June, July, August, and September.
In spite of the large numbers of visitors to the museum, the significance of the
collection, and of David T. Vernon, the general public and general museum
professionals to a great extent have little or no knowledge of the collection.
Although many Native American artists participate in the summer visiting artist
program, few tribes and scholars admit to having a thorough understanding of the
scope and importance of the collection amassed by Vernon. Over the last several
years few researchers have requested information about collection items, as
evidenced by NPS telephone and access logs.
The Legacy of David T, Vernon
For the estimated one million annual visitors to the Colter Bay Visitor
Center and Indian Arts Museum, the David T. Vernon Collection represents
American Indians and American Indian art and culture. Through their questions
and comments to museum staff, it is apparent that visitors often understand the
objects as artifacts of extinct peoples because they are removed from their
associated cultural and historical context, and frozen in time. In a 2002 Jackson
Hole Guide article, Hidden Museum Home to World-Class Collection, Laine
Thom described the problem as a gap of understanding, Many people see an
69


object and think this is all in the past, but its not. Theyre still used by
contemporary native people.55 In spite of the adjacent, visiting Native American
artists program, many visitors struggle to make connections between the objects on
exhibit and living communities as evidenced by their similar set of questions to
interpretive staff. Instead, they look at the items as objects of curiosity, products
of an ethnic other, fixed in time and place by Vernons own careful collection
practices and powerful colonial gaze. Thus, the David T. Vernon Collection,
while significant to a number of groups including tribal and scholarly
communities, fails to communicate the diversity and vitality of American Indian
art that very likely inspired Vernon to collect in the first place. Rather, in spite of
the connections between the items and existing tribes, the collection reinforces
existing stereotypes about American Indians to park visitors by presenting them as
static, historically objectified ethnographic others to be studied through material
culture, thereby perpetuating the gaze. The ethnic otherness manifested by the
collection relates directly to Vernons own perspective and the perspective of his
contemporaries. Vernons ability to define the quality, significance, and
traditional elements of Native American material culture, in conjunction with the
shared vocabulary of his contemporary collectors can be further analyzed using
Foucaults theories of knowledge and power. Much like the doctors in Foucaults
The Birth of the Clinic, Vernon and his contemporaries are part of an institution in
55 Hidden Museum Home to World-Class Collection, Jackson Hole Guide, 4 September 2002.
70


which they created the system of knowledge, value, and meaning. Through the
exhibition of the collections that manifest that system, they continue to validate
and perpetuate their own positions of knowledge and power. Just as J. E. Standley
created Ye Olde Curiosity Shop of American Indian Art, so had David T. Vernon
created a collection of American Indian curiosities. Vernons interest in traditional
elements, and his careful collecting of objects that illustrate the vocabulary of
quality and significance he and his fellow collectors determined denying the
mutability of American Indian culture. This demonstrates the enduring power of
Vernons gaze.
Historically, a lack of context-sensitive interpretation in museums
contributes to the separation between objects and their meanings, and this trend
continues in Vernon collection exhibit. Thus, for many Native American tribes, the
legacy of David T. Vernon is bittersweet and ironic. Many Native Americans and
Euro-Americans agree that that some of the items would have been lost or
destroyed over time had they not been put into collections. These views often
conflict with the irony felt by many tribes having to visit items of their own
cultural heritage in an institution not under their influence. These issues of
intellectual and physical ownership lie at the very heart of the Native American
Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990. Additionally, several
tribal members visiting the collection have shared with staff the fact that many of
the items are one-of-a-kind, spiritually powerful, and are potentially dangerous.
71


As such, some items have been removed from display to comply with the legal
requirements of NAGPRA. In a 2002 article titled, Hidden Museum Home to
World-Class Collection, published in the Jackson Hole Guide, Laine Thom,
identified items removed from display to include, masks from the Iroquois
Confederated Tribes, and a blanket that belonged to Sitting Bull.56 57 58 Although
tribal members visiting the collection often comment on the craftsmanship and
diversity of the collection, Thom articulates the significance of the collection to
contemporary Native American communities more clearly because he would like
to see remodeling of the museum result in a facility that better reflects the
connection between the past and the present a key part of native cultures, for
whom there is no separation between the past and present. In another recent
newspaper article, Shonto Begay, a well-known artist and Native American who
has painted at Colter Bay since 1987, further articulated the importance of the
collection and his painting in relation to it, creating in a very global sense,
understanding. Once we understand something, we fear it less. By fearing it less,
we accept it and become more compassionate human beings. Clearly, for many
Native Americans, the significance of the collection rests not on the objects
56 Ibid.
51 Ibid.
57 Ibid.
58 Stepping Out, Jackson Hole News, 10 16 July 2002.
72


themselves, but on the complex connections between the objects and living
communities. Furthermore, Begay reflects on the irony of having worked for the
United States government in the National Park Service earlier in his life, It was
just another avenue for us to educate people about what really occurred. More of
that kind of educating is needed. Weve been pretty much invisible to American
society. I see Europeans who are much more educated about us and our
existence.59 The question remains whether Vernons legacy lies in the
preservation of American Indian art and artifacts for future generations, in
educating the American public, in defining quality and significance of Native
American art and artifacts, or in the creation and perpetuation of an Euro-
American system of collecting that institutionalizes power and domination over
American Indian people, art, and culture by presenting them to a curious public as
souvenirs of conquest and as the focus of a shared colonial gaze.
59
Ibid.
73


CHAPTER 5
CONCLUSION
There is nothing that collectors will not collect.60
The first issue of The Curio, 1887
This thesis is part of a larger discussion on the subject of collecting,
collectors, and collections in the United States. It builds a critical analysis of the
study of collecting and offers a methodological investigation intended to challenge
the existing object-based, positivist paradigm of collecting through a multi-
disciplinary, social-cultural analysis. Using a broad-based intellectual history,
focused on collecting and material culture, this thesis has identified
methodological and thematic trends. After establishing an historical, social, and
theoretical framework, this thesis described and applied a socially relevant,
contemporary, postmodern, social-cultural analytical approach to the study of
collecting in the United States based largely on the philosophical contributions of
Michel Foucault.
Foucault uncovered and created definitions of power relations, the gaze,
and identity that exist in social relations, and I have applied Foucaults theories as
60 Jeff Ruby, Their Favorite Things, Chicago, vol. 2, February 2003, 68.
74


tools to show how David T. Vernon carefully crafted his collection to reflect his
own definitions of quality and significance. By asking Foucaults questions, I have
exposed inherent power relations within the Vernon collection, and Vernons
collecting practices Vernons gaze, including his definitions of quality and
significance, the identity he created for Native Americans in the museum context
through material culture, and the stereotypical images perpetuated by the
collection, manifests power relations between native and conqueror as he
experienced them.
Vernon was not conscious of these definitions as an artifact of his own
cultural perspective. The complexity of Vernons collection reflects Foucaults
philosophical concepts of power, the gaze, and identity, which Vernon saw as
natural. Furthermore, the existing body of literature comprising the intellectual
history of collecting shares these common themes either explicitly or implicitly.
Completing this circle of influence, I have applied Foucaults signposts and
markers of power to analyze the collection and how Vernon created it. As such, I
have used Foucaults theories as a way of building questions and subsequently
taking those questions and looking at the collection, how it was built, used, and
ultimately how the visitors see it through different sets of lenses. Through a
consideration of power (both individual and institutionalized), the gaze, identity,
and subjective definitions of quality and significance Vernon crafted through his
collection, Foucaults usefulness becomes increasingly apparent and applicable.
75


Similarly, Vasari, Baudrillard, Benjamin, Greenberg, Brody, Duncan, Hodder,
Hooper-Greenhill, Krech, Martin, Pearce, Swann, and West have contributed to
the intellectual history of collecting, collectors, and museums from a variety of
disciplines, directly or indirectly engaging issues of identity and power. By
applying Foucaults theories within this framework to the case study of David T.
Vernon, the power of Vernons gaze becomes evident in the legacy he left behind,
continuously shaping views of contemporary Native Americans, their material
culture, and American Indian ethnographic collections.
Looking Forward
Although little observable change has occurred within the Colter Bay
Visitor Center and Indian Arts Museum in Grand Teton National Park in nearly
thirty years, new administration and management personnel have taken an interest
in the David T. Vernon Collection. Since 2002, this renewed interest in the
preservation and interpretation of the Collection has resulted in the design of a
complex planning study aimed at developing a facility better equipped to care for
and interpret the Collection. In spite of the dedicated work of many National Park
Service employees skilled in the care of American Indian items, many collection
items have fallen into disrepair, and some have suffered damage due to outdated
preservation and care methods, poor environmental conditions, and lack of
intensive tribal involvement. Hopefully, new management directions addressing
76


the needs of the David T. Vernon collection, affiliated Native American tribes, and
museum visitors can serve as a starting point for the revitalization of cooperation
between tribes, scholars, collectors, administrators, and the lay public. Likewise,
new partnerships centered around the care of the collection, which has remained
important to Native American communities in spite of the National Park Services
fluctuating level of commitment over the past thirty years, may offer additional
educational opportunities for tribes, visitors, National Park Service employees, and
other museum professionals within the contexts of collecting and collections in
public museums.
As part of the planning process for improvements to the Colter Bay Visitor
Center and Indian Arts Museum, I am critically investigating questions concerning
David T. Vernon as a significant early twentieth-century collector of American
Indian objects. Some of the most interesting avenues of investigation concern a
multi-disciplinary postmodern or decolonial approach to understanding Vernon as
an Euro-American collector of Native American art and artifacts. Perhaps more
important for future research, however, are the cultural questions raised upon
exibiting such a collection of ethnographic objects. Questions concerning how
Vernon and other early collectors decided what objects to collect as American
Indian art and artifacts, and their methods of defining quality and significance are
important to identifying and understanding the problematic influence and enduring
power of this imperial gaze that Vernon exemplified. Susan Pearce and Paul
77


Martin of the University of Leicester embrace the idea that Collecting in one
sense or another is probably as old as humanity itself.61 However, through
postmodern and post-colonial critiques, we are just now beginning to recognize
and understand cultures of collecting as institutions, consequences of this human
fascination with things and the complex relationships people associate with them.
Given that opportunities for scholarship exist with respect to the study of
collecting, the Journal of the History of Collections has noted that Only
recently... has the study of collections and their collectors become the subject of
great multidisciplinary interest.62 Therefore, the field is wide open and begs for
exploratory contributions to the discourse. The ubiquitous nature of the act of
collecting, manifested across the globe in museums, galleries, and private homes,
indicates the omnipresence of collecting. Clearly, as the authors discussed have
argued, and my use of David T. Vernon in exploring Foucaults theories has
illustrated, studies of collecting and the history of collecting can provide important
insights into how humans relate to the surrounding material world. Collecting
reflects the complexity of the human condition and the manner in which humans
relate to one another, their environments, and the material cultures they produce
and subsequently consume. This analysis is only the beginning to what is sure to
61 Paul Martin, Popular Collecting and the Everyday Self: The Reinvention of Museums? (London
and New York: Leicester University Press, 1999), 26.
62 Journal of the History of Collections. (2002) located at hiscol/scope/>; accessed October 3, 2002.
78


be an extended dialogue building upon the foundational texts of Baudrillard,
Benjamin, Brody, Duncan, Hodder, Hooper-Greenhill, Krech, Martin, Pearce,
Swann, and West. Within the current post-colonial framework, opportunities exist
to analyze issues of identity, as well as subjective definitions of quality and
significance, in addition to the multiple impacts of power and objectification
imposed by the colonial gaze. Raised in relation to museum collections, these
issues, examined in historic context and with regard to the implications for living
communities, can yield insights useful to cross-cultural understanding, while
challenging existing paradigms for understanding museums.
79


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