We are happy to announce the official accession of a collection of three ceramic vessels made by Jereldine Redcorn! These vessels represent an important stage in the evolution of modern Native American craft. Ms. Redcorn has begun to reinvigorate the tradition of pottery-making among her fellow Caddo tribe members, as well as other Native American groups. Her designs have been especially inspired by prehistoric Native American decorative motifs from the Spiro Mounds site in Oklahoma, as well as archaeological examples of Caddo artwork in the tribe’s homeland, primarily in East Texas. A self-taught artist, Jeri imbues each piece with her own aesthetic, so that while many of her vessels bear traceable references to motifs and pottery styles found in the archaeological record, they are uniquely modern creations.
Image: Jeraldine Redcorn, Caddo Potter (SmithsonianScience.org).
Dr. Dan Rogers has known Ms. Redcorn for a long time, and would often see her at the Caddo Conference, where she frequently displayed her pots for sale. Jeri had already gained notoriety as an accomplished artist, and Dan hoped to obtain some of her pieces for the Anthropology Collections here at Natural History to complement the large collections of ancient Caddo and other Native American archaeological collections. Collections cannot be static; time goes on, and so does culture. In order to have a good material record of a people over time, it’s vital to continue collecting the modern material as well. This is one of the reasons you will often hear about the National Museum of American History working on contemporary collecting associated with big events around the country. In Dr. Rogers’ words, “Ms. Redcorn is a modern-day cultural interpreter of a very long tradition,” and as such, it was hugely important to him to include her pots in the museum’s collections.
He approached Jeri in 2007 about commissioning her work for the museum, and requested that she make the vessels in any design or shape that she wanted to make. She came up with these three beautiful pots, titled (left to right) Panther-Rattlesnake Bottle, Bell Dance, and Hasinai Twins.
These three vessels by Jeri Redcorn were recently added to the collections of the Anthropology Department of the National Museum of Natural History. (Photo by James DiLoreto)
Ms. Redcorn’s work is also in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, of which, Intertwining Scrolls, was selected by First Lady Michelle Obama to grace the White House in 2009.
Once acquired by the museum, objects like Ms. Redcorn’s pottery are processed into the collection in a number of ways. First they have to be officially proposed for accession to a collections committee. Once accepted, the information surrounding a new collection is processed by the registrar, who maintains information on legal title, donors, why the collection was acquired, and other important documents. After it is accessioned, the object goes to collections staff for cataloguing, which includes describing, measuring, labeling, photographing, and storing the object.
Meghan Mulkerin recently finished labeling each of the Redcorn vessels with their catalog numbers, and cataloged each one into the EMu database, which the museum uses to keep track of all objects and specimens in its collections. When objects are physically numbered, it is always important that the numbers be permanently applied so that the lettering will not accidentally fade or be rubbed away. This is important to prevent the object from ever being separated from its catalog number, which is linked to all of the information we have about each item in the museum. However, any labels or numbers on objects are applied in such a way that a conservator would always be able to completely remove the label using the proper tools and solvents. This principal is called reversibility, and is the key consideration that collections staff and conservators must follow before altering an object in any way. The work must always be able to be un-done. This is one of the reasons why scientific testing that requires sampling from an artifact is taken so seriously; a sample taken from an artifact cannot be put back. Therefore any time any museum gets a request for destructive sampling, it has to be approved by many people, and generally be a small enough sample that it cannot readily be seen on the object. For example, if a scientist wanted to test a piece of silk from the First Ladies dresses to find out whether the silk was lead-weighted, the sample would be very small and taken from an interior seam allowance, which would not damage the dress and be invisible to the public.
All of these accessioning and cataloguing activities take time, but enable people to go back to the collections years from now and still have detailed information about each item. We are doing our part to make sure the stories behind the objects live on well beyond our time here.
We hope this gives you a glimpse into the kind of work we do at NMNH, and hope you will stay tuned for more posts on new collections and on the Spiro Mounds! Please let us know if you have any questions.
-Meghan Mulkerin, Collections Specialist Contractor