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July 25, 2005

CW announces special exhibition on American Indians in conjunction with America's 400th Anniversary

Colonial Williamsburg
"Smith Rescued by Pocahontas" (circa 1856-70), an oil painting from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, depicts the familiar legend of the rescue of Captain John Smith by Pocahontas near Jamestown, Va., during an expedition in 1607.

In conjunction with the 400th anniversary in 2007 of the founding of Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg will host “Myth & Reality: Images of American Indians,” a special exhibition about stereotypical imagery of Native Americans. American Indians have played a critical role in our nation’s history, yet all too often their public portrayals – in books, ads, shop signs, terminology and even children’s toys and games – are greatly at odds with the actual people and their customs. Guest curated by Arlene Hirschfelder and Paulette Molin, “Myth & Reality” will trace the history of how American Indians have been represented – and misrepresented -- from the 17th-century to the present, and will attempt to foster more realistic images of native peoples. The display will run Feb. 24, 2007 through January 2008 at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum.

Hirschfelder, author of “American Stereotypes in the World of Children” and co-author of “Encyclopedia of Native American Religions,” has amassed a private collection of approximately 1,000 American Indian objects. She is nationally known for her work on stereotyping. Molin, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe from the White Earth Reservation, an educator and a writer, has worked in the Minneapolis public school system and as director of the American Educational Opportunities Program at Hampton University in Hampton, Va. She co-edited the second edition of “American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children,” co-authored “Encyclopedia of Native American Religions” and co-curated two exhibitions on American Indians.
Molin and Hirschfelder have identified several different themes for “Myth & Reality,” including: “playing Indian,” an activity that is one of the oldest forms of American cultural expression; misrepresentation of native religious beliefs and practices; “vanishing Indian” ideology, the widespread belief that Indians would disappear from existence; and objectification and commercialization of native peoples to promote and sell a wide range of merchandise.

“We hope to make guests aware of the harmful long-term effects of stereotyping,” said Molin. “In addition, we want to have an impact on education by providing programs at the museum that will encourage further discussion in the classroom or at home.”

Though Colonial Williamsburg has not focused primarily on American Indians in the past, it is an excellent venue for such an endeavor, according to Hirschfelder. “Many objects in the Colonial Williamsburg collection will demonstrate the exhibition themes,” she said. “The collection is especially rich with American Indian images in early engravings, drawings, portraiture, political prints, maps and cartouches, tobacconist figures, weather vanes, coins and medals, and books and prints.”

In addition to the Colonial Williamsburg resources and Hirschfelder’s collection, the curators will include a selection of works by contemporary native artists that counter stereotypes dating from the colonial period to the present. They also will work with a diverse advisory committee of more than a dozen experts to guide the project’s scholarly and interpretive focus, and seek ways to involve native people and native communities.

Members include:
Chief Stephen Adkins (Chickahominy);
Philip Deloria (Dakota, University of Michigan);
Rex Ellis (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation);
Rayna Green (Cherokee, National Museum of American History);
Jim Horn (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation);
Joyce Krigsvold (Pamunkey, Pamunkey Museum);
Gerald McMaster (Plains Cree, National Museum of the American Indian);
Oliver Perry (Chief Emeritus of the Nansemond Tribe of Virginia);
Margaret Pritchard (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation);
Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo, University of Illinois);
Beverly Singer (Tewa and Navajo, University of New Mexico);
Karenne Wood (Monacan, Virginia Council on Indians); and
Jeanne Zeidler (Jamestown 2007).

The major historical, educational, cultural, business and tourism organizations of Virginia’s Historic Triangle – including Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown – are collaborating to commemorate America’s 400th Anniversary, in recognition of the founding of the first permanent English settlement in America at Jamestown in 1607. Beginning in 2006 and extending through spring 2008, new permanent features, events and special exhibits will highlight Jamestown’s significant legacies of representative government, free enterprise and cultural diversity, all of which continue to shape our lives today.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s award winning DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, supported by the DeWitt Wallace Endowment Fund, displays the foundation’s exceptional collection of British and American decorative arts. Entered through the reconstructed Public Hospital of 1773, the museum is on Francis Street near Merchants Square and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is included in any multi-day Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket or by separate museums ticket. For program information call (757) 220-7724.

Media Contact:
Sophia Hart
(757) 220-7272