Return of the Natives

Earlier this week, Wolfsonian art handlers finished dismantling the library installation America the Beautiful: American Indians and the Promotion of National Parks, and began to put up Selling the Golden Leaf: Exoticism in Tobacco Advertising.

America the Beautiful American Indians Installation View3


The former installation—which I had assembled from portfolio plates, puzzles, calendars, advertising brochures, guidebooks, and postcards—examined the ways in which images of Native American peoples were used to promote the National Parks.


Visit by Third Grade students from the Temple Beth Am Day School

Part of the installation focused on the Great Northern Railway Company’s reproduction of Blackfeet Indian portraits by German-American artist Winold Reiss, to promote travel to Glacier National Park.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

It also looked at the Santa Fe Railway’s cultural appropriation of American Indian symbols and imagery to encourage travel to the Grand Canyon.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds provided by the Mitchell Wolfson, Sr. Foundation

 Finally, the installation also looked at how Seminole Indians were used to attract tourists to Florida’s Everglades National Park in the automotive age.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Even as this installation has come down, new images of native peoples have replaced them on the walls and in the display cases. This new installation—put together by associate librarian Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi—also examines how “exotic” peoples and colonial motifs were used by graphic artists such as Eric Simon and others to sell tobacco products. Here is his report:

Commodity-type products, such as beer, shampoo, gasoline, cigarettes, fast food, soft drinks, detergent, ice cream, and toothpaste, rely heavily on the communicative powers of their advertising and brand names. Images evoking the colonization of the Americas— specifically how the Europeans learned about tobacco and its use from the native populations—frequently occur among the visual strategies employed to promote tobacco products.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. loan

The development of color lithography in the late 1870s allowed companies to create attractive images to better present their products. The artist for the Exposition cigar box inside label has depicted an allegorical representation of the discovery voyage of Christopher Columbus to America. This label was produced by Schlegel Litho for cigars sold at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The official seal of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition contains symbols evoking Virginia’s colonial and independent pasts—the bust of Pocahontas encircled by a wreath of corn and tobacco, and the two crops white settlers adopted from the indigenous populations of the New World.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca

Long before Detroit became renowned for the production of automobiles, the city had earned a solid reputation for manufacturing cigars and chewing tobacco. Scotten Dillon was a major manufacturer of plug, chewing, and non-cigarette smoking tobacco in Detroit, Michigan between 1852 and 1969. By the 1890s, the firm employed 1,200 workers. A label for fine cut tobacco produced by this company features a Native American man holding in his left hand a small bundle of tobacco leaves while invoking a supernatural power with this outstretched right hand. The Woodland Indian tribes— which included the Ojibwa people—believed that tobacco was the unifying thread of communication between humans and the spiritual powers. When praying to the Creator a native held tobacco in the left hand because it is the hand closest to the heart.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Another cigar box inside label features a famous Sioux chief, Red Cloud (1822–1909). Born into the Bad Face band of the Oglala Sioux in the Nebraska Territory, Red Cloud became chief of the Oglala Sioux in 1860. For nine years he led his warriors in campaigns the prevented the U.S. Army from opening up the Bozeman Trail to the Montana goldfields. The Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed by Red Cloud in 1869 after the Army garrisons were withdrawn and their forts burned. He then laid down his arms and lived at the Red Cloud Agency in Nebraska, becoming an advocate of peace who often traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with political leaders and to speak to white audiences. He was deposed as chief of the Oglala in 1881. The Red Cloud brand goes back to 1874 and the then frontier town of Red Cloud, Nebraska, where Red Cloud Stogies were manufactured continuously until a fire destroyed the operation in 1922.

XC2017.08.1.1_000   The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Cruwell Tabak, a German tobacco company founded in 1705 and still existing today, also emphasized the ceremonial importance of tobacco in this image of a tribal chief with a pipe used on an advertising card from the 1930s. American Indians used tobacco to seal peace treaties between tribes and agreements between individuals. The chief kept a special pipe with a long decorated stem called a peace pipe. The stem could be held between quarreling individuals until they reached an accord—smoking together signified that they had reached an agreement or that a bargain had been sealed.


 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Born in Germany, Eric Simon (1892–1978) designed advertisements for various German tobacco companies between World War I and World War II. In 1933, he was invited to London to work for Sir William Crawford; as the Nazis took power in Germany, Simon, whose wife was Jewish, decided to remain in England, brought over his family, and ultimately moved to the United States in 1940. Native Americans smoking pipes were a recurrent theme of his designs.


XB2005.12.13.2_052 XB2005.12.13.61_000    XB2005.12.13.75_000.jpg   XB2005.12.13.8_035.jpg

  The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The installation Selling the Golden Leaf opens today and will be on view through April 1, 2018.


~ by "The Chief" on October 12, 2017.

One Response to “Return of the Natives”

  1. I have just had a conversation with the Erich Simon’s son, Christopher, who provided me with some interesting details that I thought I’d share with our readers. After moving to England, Erich Simon became a member of the Society of Graphic Designers, and worked for the London Times and the Curwen Press. After moving his family again, to the United States, he maintained a correspondence with his friends and former colleagues at the Curwen Press, who, in one wartime missive, wrote him back saying that “we do miss you and your head enveloped in cigar smoke, but you’re better off where you are.”

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