According to project manager Duane Blue Spruce, the headdresses symbolize both the multitude of indigenous cultures in the Western Hemisphere and the status of these groups as sovereign nations.
Every piece of the drum is chosen for a specific purpose. The female goat hide used for the drumhead represents fertility, and the stones placed inside the drum are said to shine like stars, illuminating the rites of the Machi. “It’s one of the most ritually important objects of the Mapuche people,” says curator Cécile Ganteaume.
The Shipibo were forced to start making money to buy food, and tourism quickly became a prime source of income. This water container is an effigy of a woman designed in the 1960s for the tourist market. Although it was made smaller than most other vessels of its ilk (which stand up to four feet tall), it nonetheless retains the authentic tri-level design of the Shipibo, a complex, geometric pattern that derives from the visions of a shaman. The Shipibo—one of the only Amazonian tribes known for their pottery and for primarily female artisans—also use similar tri-level designs for facial tattoos, war club ornaments, paddles and clothing.
“She was a precursor to today’s Native people, who find themselves living in two worlds,” says Blue Spruce. “Through her Western education, she was able to advocate for her own people in a non-Native world.”
The elongated human forms on the robe are characteristic of Apsáalooke art of the era. They depict six different vignettes, in which the warrior takes a gun, seizes a bow, strikes two enemies, kills an enemy, and returns to his people with the enemy’s guns. William H. Schieffelin, the son of a wealthy New York couple, acquired the robe from a Blackfoot in Fort Benton, Montana, in 1861. How the Blackfoot came to possess such a rare piece of Apsáalooke ephemera is not known.