Friday, January 24, 2014

"Indians at the Post Office"

The National Postal Museum has an exhibit up called Indians at the Post Office. The murals were made in the 1930s and 1940s and are part of a larger set, all created at the same time, as part of a public art program. The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is focusing on the murals with depictions of Native peoples in them. Most of them were done by artists who were/are not Native themselves. It is a fascinating exhibit. Dr. Jose Barreiro, Assistant Director of the History and Culture Research Museum Scholarship group of NMAI wrote that that the murals:
"incorporate the salient, stereotypical images that have confronted and continue to challenge contemporary American Indian people. Some of these are quite harsh, tending toward a punitive and degrading perception of Indian people."

Some of the murals were done by Native artists. Today on AICL, I'm sharing two of them. The one on top is by a non-Native artist. It reflects the stereotypical image Barreiro refers to. It wouldn't be hard to find similar depictions in children's books of that time period, would it? And of course--because some of those books are deemed classic, kids still see them and don't know/aren't taught that they're stereotypical. The one on bottom is by a Native artist. See the differences? In Bessemer's, there is a monolithic Indian.

"Early Indian Life on Analostan Island"
by Auriel Bessemer, Arlington, VA Post Office

"Grand Council of 1842"
by Walter Richard West Sr., Cheyenne Nation, Okemah, OK Post Office 

Lest you think I'm making an unfair comparison because of the two different time periods being depicted, here's one that depicts a treaty signing in 1830. It, too, was done by a non-Native artist. As with the one by Bessemer, there is no variation in the way the Native people are depicted.

"Signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek"
by S. Douglass Crockwell, Macon, MS Post Office

Want to see more? I viewed the images above at "History or Bunk?: 20 New Deal Murals Depicting American Indians" at the website for Indian Country Today Media Network. If your post office has a mural that depicts Native people, I'd love to see a photo if you have the means to take one. If not, I'd still love to hear about it.

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