The Florida Museum’s ethnographic collection spans all the major geographic areas of North America and includes many important artifact types. Many of these pieces were originally purchased by Leigh Morgan Pearsall on the art market between 1900-1960. The collection includes more than 3,600 objects, making it the largest such collection in the Southeast.
Cultural attributions and notes made by well known scholars, such as Frederick J. Dockstader, Norman Feder and Bill Holm, are recorded on the catalogue cards and a related computerized catalogue maintained by the museum registrar. In addition, a Museum Loan Network grant (M.I.T.) facilitated further analysis of the collection by noted scholars, including Janet Berlo, Aldona Jonaitis, Lea McChesney, and Susan Sekakuku.
The North American Indian basket collection, some 700 baskets in all, represents most of the major Native American culture groups. The Pima and Apache baskets are exceptionally fine. The basket collection is considered to be one of the most comprehensive in the country because it contains examples from so many Native American cultures.
The Northwest Coast material, almost 1,000 pieces, includes some rare masterworks such as the famous Chilkat dance shawls and a group of over 500 Haida argillite carvings from the Northwest Coast (Pearsall database # P0750 to P1206). In the 1920s, Pearsall purchased whole collections of argillite and quietly outbid a number of major museums in his zeal to own the largest collection of Northwest Coast argillite or jadeite, a name used by collectors of that epoch. Ours remains one of the largest argillite collections in the world and includes some of the earliest pieces made for sale in the nineteenth century. Totem poles, well represented in the argillite collection, also include more traditional monumental wooden poles. Model totem poles of wood include examples carved by Willie Seaweed, a famed Kwakiutl carver. A variety of other carved wooden artifacts include architectural models, canoes, and figures (Pearsall database # P1227, P1270, P1291, P1389). A number of these pieces were purchased directly from George Thorton Emmons, who traveled frequently to the Northwest Coast communities to buy for large institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History.
Alaskan Eskimo and Canadian Inuit artifacts, numbering around 425 artifacts, represent a wide range of Arctic material culture, from utilitarian items of wearing apparel, blankets, and tools to ceremonial pieces, such as dance fans, masks, and drums (Pearsall database # P0502, P0510, P0642, P0682, P0713, P0729). Some artifacts were collected systematically, such as the material acquired by Oliver Austin from the Labrador Inuit and Innu (Naskapi) of Canada in 1927-1928. Tools for hunting, butchering, and preparing leather are a major component in this collection. Dolls and gaming pieces are also prominently represented. Incised and carved ivory artifacts show a great variety of artistic forms. Most notable are numerous hunting scenes and images of animals, some representing works made for sale during the earliest years of trade in the far north.
The Plains material, predominantly Lakota (Sioux) includes paintings on cloth and leather, abundant beadwork and quillwork, and a great variety of stone pipes (Pearsall database # P0005, P0059, P0073, P0094, P0129, P0153, P0195, P0273, P0312A, B). Among the collection of over 650 artifacts are some very beautiful beaded leather dresses of the early Reservation Period, and a number of male garments and children’s attire (Pearsall database # P0007, P0019, P0049, P0073, P0074, P0131, P2006). A variety of equestrian equipment, such as saddles and saddlebags, evoke life on the Plains before the Reservation period (Pearsall database # P0313A, B, P0320). A number of pieces were clearly influenced by European-American tastes. Other pieces show cross-cultural connections, such as a beaded Octopus bag from the Inland Tlingit that reflects a style introduced from the Plains Cree in the 1880s (Pearsall database # P0088).
Most of the gallery artifacts from the Northeast are Ojibwa (Chippewa) artifacts, a group also called Anishnabe. There are also a few artifacts attributed to the Seneca and Sauk or Fox. Northeast artifacts include garments and attire with elaborate beadwork, such as Bandolier bags (# P0375, P0376) and belts (# P0378). Other artifacts include equipment used in ceremonies, such as drumbeaters (# P0383A, P0383B) and sports (stickball stick, # P0384).
The Southwest collection, numbering around 575 artifacts, features katsina dolls, pottery, jewelry, woven textiles, and basketry, including a very large Hopi basket (Pearsall database # P1796). The collection of 118 rugs and blankets incorporates Navajo or Diné works from most of the major stylistic periods between 1880-1930 (Pearsall database # P1962 to 2091). “Chief’s blankets,” Yei rugs featuring katsinas, Two Grey Hills rugs, and revival style rugs developed at the Ganado Trading Post are included in the database (Pearsall database # P1963, P1975, P1986). Pueblo material features ceramics made by famous potters, such as Nampeyo of Hano (# P1910). Other pieces of historical significance include a Zuni water jar collected by Matilda Cox Stevenson in 1884 (Pearsall database # P1862).
Publications Documenting the Collection
Although individual artifacts in our North American Indian collection have been incorporated in a numerous books, catalogues, and scholarly articles, there has been no comprehensive publication of the North American Indian collection. The argillite collection is featured in a number of publications. Argillite Art of the Haida by Leslie Drew and Douglas Wilson (Hancock House Publishers, Vancouver, B.C., 1980) includes a section on Pearsall’s famous collection of argillite. A large group of our Northwest Coast artifacts are part of a large videodisk project undertaken by Robin Wright and Bill Holm (Pacific Northwest Native American Art in Museums and Private Collections: The Bill Holm and Robin K. Wright Slide Collections, Robin K. Wright [ed.], Thomas Burke Memorial Washington State Museum Research Report No. 7, 1996.) Also, American Indian Arts Magazine (vol. 28, no. 4, autumn 2003) featured an article entitled “The Pearsall Collection of American Indian Art: Fortieth Anniversary Selections,” authored by Sandra Starr, the guest curator of our exhibit by the same name. The article and exhibition provide a focal point for celebrating the initial accession of the collection and the seminal role of the collection as an expression of early American Indian art.
The Pearsall Collection in Exhibits at the Florida Museum
This gallery includes Pearsall collection artworks featured in past temporary exhibits, including Navajo Weavings 1870-1930, a 1991 exhibit of 20 textiles that traced the development of early weaving styles and the influences of contact with the art market. The gallery also features many works from Seven Council Fires: Sioux Indians on the Plains displayed at the Florida Museum between 1991-1992. This exhibit of more than 100 Plains artifacts later traveled to museums in South Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania between 1993-1997. The gallery includes many of objects exhibited in The Pearsall Collection of American Indian Art: Fortieth Anniversary Selections. This exhibit of 240 works of art was on display at the Florida Museum’s exhibition center, Powell Hall, from March 2003 until April 2007.