Indigenous Peoples of the Wolfsonian, Unite and Take Notice

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, The Wolfsonian–FIU Library hosted a number of Florida International University faculty and students, and VIPs all with an interest in indigenous peoples of the world.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

 On October 14th, Associate Professor Dennis Wiedman from FIU’s Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies arrived with his students to introduce them to our holdings of ethnohistorically-relevant materials in our rare book and special collections library. Several years ago, Dr. Wiedman had been awarded a Mellon grant that had allowed him to integrate our museum collection into the curricula of his Ethnohistorical Research Methods graduate studies courses, and he has been returning with his students ever since. Our library is especially rich in its holdings of materials from the 1850s to the 1950s, an era of European ascendency, the colonization of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

 The Wolfsonian Library collection contains a treasure-trove of rare books, periodicals, and ephemeral items with visuals that focus on the exoticization and representation of the “other”-ness of indigenous peoples around the globe.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Wolfsonian library also has a good sampling of the work of Winold Reiss, a German-American artist who painted portraits of the Blackfeet Indian peoples. Many of his iconic images were not only reproduced in books, but were used in commercial artwork for calendars for the Great Northern Railway’s “Empire Builder” route.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

 One of Dr. Wiedman’s students returned later in the week for a research visit to explore his topic of interest in the use of ancient Mayan and Mesoamerican art and imagery in the historic and contemporary representation of the Yucatan.

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 Two oversized volumes were of immediate interest: George Oakley Totten’s Maya Architecture (1926), and Francisco Mujica’s History of the Skyscraper (1929), which were published in the wake of major excavations and restorations of ancient Maya ruins, and the simultaneous construction of America’s early skyscrapers.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Geo. B. Post Collection, gift of Edward E. Post

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The designs of ancient Maya structures so captivated popular imagination at the time of their “rediscovery” and conservation, that they influenced and were integrated into the façade and lobby decorations of the art deco Stock Exchange building in San Francisco, designed by Miller and Pfleuger, Architects.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

 An “exact reproduction” of a section of the famous “Nunnery” Maya temple at Uxmal, Yucatan was built for fair-goers visiting the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago in 1933.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Our next group visit came last Saturday, when Dr. Maria Antonieta Garcia, Senior French Instructor and French Program Coordinator from the Department of Modern Languages brought some of her students and members of the French club to see a display of French materials from the library collection.

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While the class also saw some rare WWI and WWII French materials, the bulk of the items on display were produced for the international Colonial Expositions held in Marseille in 1922 and Paris in 1933 and documented French pride in its overseas empire.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gifts

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The library holds a number of rare portfolios produced for French colonial exhibitions. One such portfolio reproduced photographic images of Le Musée des Colonies (renamed the Palais de la Porte Dorée), with detailed views of its incredible bas reliefs by sculptor Alfred Janniot. The bas reliefs depict life in the French colonies in Africa, Indochina, and the rest of the world, with exoticized and eroticized images of the indigenous peoples harvesting their products.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

 Another portfolio contains watercolor renderings depicting the 1933 exhibition buildings and the interactions between the spectators and the colonial peoples brought to Paris to occupy the ethnographic displays or “human zoo” sections of the fair.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

 In addition to exhibition catalogs, portfolios, and brochures published for the colonial expositions, the library also has some rare games produced in France to help young French children learn about their far-flung colonies.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

At the conclusion of the library visit, I brought the French enthusiasts up to the fifth floor gallery to see a statue by Arthur Dupagne titled: La Barre à Mine exhibited in the Belgian Congo Pavilion at the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques in Paris. Behind it, is a painting by Georges Jacques Lambert titled France d’Outre Mer from the same exposition depicting the modern pavilions imitating the indigenous architecture of France’s overseas empire.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

This morning, another set of visitors came through the library to see some of these same materials and others utilized by Mellon grant recipients related to international expositions; British, German, Italian, and Dutch steamship line promotional materials; photograph albums of colonial ventures; and a representative sampling of our rare periodical holdings.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Our Director Tim Rodgers and Assistant Director for Research & Academic Initiatives, Jon Mogul led the tour which included Mariet Westermann, the Vice President of Programs and Research at the Mellon Foundation, accompanied by Nicole Kaufmann of FIU’s advancement office, and David Rifkind, Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Students, College of Communication, Architecute + the Arts. Ms. Westermann was particularly interested in the Dutch East Indies materials in the collection.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

David Rifkind had also benefitted from a Mellon grant that had allowed him to research our rich holdings of Fascist Italy’s colonization of Ethiopia and to curate in 2012 an installation titled: Metropole/Colony: Africa and Italy in the teaching gallery at the Frost Museum on the Modesto Maidique campus of FIU.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In preparing for their visit I had pulled some newly acquired materials, some rare Turkish periodicals critical of Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, to entice Dr. Rifkind to return.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

~ by "The Chief" on October 28, 2016.

One Response to “Indigenous Peoples of the Wolfsonian, Unite and Take Notice”

  1. This would make a great exhibition.

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