Florida Museum of Natural History

The Pearsall Collection of American Indian Art:
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Database of North American Indian Art in the Pearsall Collection

A major component in the Florida Museum's North American Indian ethnographic collection came to the University of Florida in 1964 when a donor purchased the Leigh Morgan Pearsall collection for the museum. With representative pieces from most of the major tribal cultures in North America, the Pearsall collection is especially rich in examples of North American Indian art made during the Reservation Period (1890-1920), a time of transition for American Indian cultures. The collection is an important resource for studying the origins of the North American Indian art market. The Pearsall database includes a selection of 500 objects, about 20% of the collection, from the United States and Canada, as well as a few Siberian artifacts from the Western Arctic.


How to use the Pearsall Database

The numbers used in the database are catalogue numbers that were assigned in sequence to related sets of objects, usually grouped by individual culture area. Most artifacts are grouped by culture area in a sequence of numbers, except for baskets. These are clustered together in a sequence of catalogue numbers (# P1444 to P1847). The user can also find all the baskets in our database by selecting the term "plant" in the pull-down list of materials. A great variety of materials can be searched, including argillite, bone, beads, leather, shell, stone, wood, etc.

Pull-down lists for searches in the digital database also include culture area and tribal affiliation. Broad culture areas include designation such as Plains, Northeast, Arctic, etc. The information recorded is a synthesis of information recorded on the catalogue cards and more recent data compiled during study of the collection. When more specific information about culture area or tribal affiliations is known, these are given in parentheses. Some entries with a question mark are considered very tentative. In recent literature, tribal names closer to the original Native American names have replaced some earlier designations. The former name is usually given in brackets, such as Lakota [Sioux]. Resources we consulted to update tribal affiliations and language groups include the following: A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples by Barry M. Pritzker (2000, Oxford University Press), Native North American Art, by Janet Berlo and Ruth Phillips (1998, Oxford University Press), and North American Indian Cultures, a map compiled by National Geographic (September, 2004).


More on the Pearsall Database

A 2003 grant from the Museum Loan Network at M.I.T provided funding for the study of around 500 pieces from the Pearsall collection, allowing us to bring in a conservator and four consulting curators to study our collection. Aldona Jonaitis, Janet Berlo, Lea McChesney and Susan Secakuku helped to update our catalogue entries and selected around 150 pieces for the Museum Loan Network. They worked with Florida Museum of Natural History staff, especially Elise LeCompte (registrar) and Susan Milbrath (curator), and with Elizabeth Boyd, a graduate student in the University of Florida's Anthropology department, who helped us to develop a digital database of all 500 pieces in the original study group.

Listed alphabetically, the main culture areas in the database are: Arctic, California, Great Basin, Intermontaine/Plateau Northeast, Northwest Coast, Plains, Southeast, Southwest, and Sub-arctic. The Pearsall digital database documents 98 Plains pieces, mostly garments, equestrian equipment, and a variety of personal gear. Arctic material numbers 42 records, including hunting gear, garments, and artworks made for sale. Database entries of Northwest Coast material are numerous with 128 records, including 38 Haida argillite carvings from the area of the Queen Charlotte Islands, Vancouver. We included this large component to show the breadth of our collection in a single type of object.

Baskets (127 records) in the database are the most numerous type of artifact, with most being from California and the Southwest. In some cases, the database features a group of almost identical forms to provide a comparative group for study, such as the selection of twined basketry hats from the Hupa of northern California.

In terms of culture area, Southwest material is by far the most numerous with 137 database records, including many baskets and Navajo textiles. Culture areas, like the Great Basin, Intermontaine/Plateau, Northeast, Southeast and Subarctic, represent relatively small components in the Pearsall collection, so the number of records in our database are proportionally smaller. The Southeast component of the Pearsall Collection is surprisingly small. Fortunately, this culture area is well represented in the larger body of the ethnographic collection.