The Florida Museum's Ethnographic Collection
Our North American Indian ethnographic collection numbers over 3600 objects, making it the largest
such collection in the Southeast. Many of these pieces were originally purchased by Leigh Morgan
Pearsall on the art market between 1900-1960. The ethnographic collection spans all the major geographic
areas of North America and includes many important artifact types. 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.
Our 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.
Our Northwest Coast material, almost 1000 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 aritifacts
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.
Our 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 database 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 database 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. Our database also features many works from Seven Council Fires: Sioux Indians on the Plains
displayed at our 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 database 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.