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Now Through June 20 at the Penn Museum: Photography Exhibition,
In Citizen’s Garb: Southern Plains Native Americans, 1889–1891
March 30, 2010, Volume 56, No. 27

In Citizen’s Garb: Southern Plains Native Americans, 1889–1891, a photographic exhibition on view at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology now through June 20, explores the ways dress—and life—changed for the Kiowa, Comanche, and other Native American nations of the Southern Plains during the last tumultuous decades of the 1800s. Plains Indian clothing from the period, selected from the Museum’s own collection, complements the photographs.

Indian reservations in Oklahoma and Indian Territories opened during the 1880s and 1890s, coinciding with large-scale efforts by the United States government to force western Native American tribes to adapt Euro-American ways. These efforts were meant to “civilize” the native peoples.

William J. Lenny and William L. Sawyers were among the many white entrepreneurs quick to capitalize on the romantic lure of the Indian nations. They set up shop in Purcell, Oklahoma, one of the many towns that sprang up on former Indian lands, to make photographs of formerly “wild Indians” for eastern consumption, where there was a great appetite for images of the West. The 53 photographs that comprise this exhibition are modern restrikes made from Lenny and Sawyers’ original glass negatives.

Some of the photographs show obvious yet powerful details of the acculturation process. Images of Native Americans in both citizen and native dress reflect the transition that occurred between the nations’ past and their radically different future.

Fifteen Native American objects, including a little girl’s buckskin dress with elaborate decoration and mens’ and womens’ moccasins, all chosen from the Penn Museum’s rich holdings, are included in the gallery. They date from the same time period and place (Kiowa and Comanche, Kiowa-Apache Reservation) as the photographs. Each of the object types is depicted in one or more of the photographs included in the exhibition.

In Citizen’s Garb is curated by John Hernandez, director of the Museum of the Great Plains in Lawton, Oklahoma. The exhibition is organized by the Museum of the Great Plains and toured by ExhibitsUSA. The purpose of ExhibitsUSA is to create access to an array of arts and humanities exhibitions, nurture the development and understanding of diverse art forms and cultures, and encourage the expanding depth and breadth of cultural life in local communities. ExhibitsUSA is the national touring division of Mid-America Arts Alliance, a private, nonprofit organization based in Kansas City, Missouri and founded in 1972.

The exhibition is in the Merle-Smith Gallery West, 1st floor of the Penn Museum.

Lizzie Woodard, son Oliver and sister, Kiowas, modern gelatin silver print from original glass plate negative, ca 1888-1891; courtesy Joe Swalwell collection. Chief Quanah Parker, citizen’s garb, modern gelatin silver print from original glass plate negative, ca 1888-1891; courtesy Joe Swalwell.


Almanac - March 30, 2010, Volume 56, No. 27