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Documenting Native American Life


This virtual exhibit highlights both the Western photographers’ role in documenting American Indian life and the photographs themselves. The work of noted Western photographers including George A. Addison, Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory; W. E. Irwin, Chickasha, Indian Territory; Thomas Houseworth, San Francisco, California; John K. Hillers, the Powell Expedition of 1873; Timothy O’ Sullivan, the Wheeler Survey Expedition of 1874; and others are featured. images created for mass distribution by stereograph manufacturers Underwood & Underwood and Keystone View Company and several postcard publishers are also included.

Exhibition photographs include traditional studio portraits, images that show the material culture of Native American people, portrayals that reinforce white stereotypes, images of traditional Indian lifeways, and photographs that illustrate aspects of Native American history. The ways photographs can sometimes misrepresent American Indian life and experience is also explored. Among the photographic formats in the exhibit are albumen photographs, cabinet card photographs, real photo postcards, and stereographs.

For purposes of this virtual exhibit the photographs are divided according to the categories noted above, but, of course, these are not absolute categories. For example, portrait photographs can show clothing and other material culture and stereotypical depictions may also have authentic aspects.


Amie and Carrie, Kiawah Cabinet photograph George A. Addison, Fort Sill, OT, circa 1895 2003.140

Studio portrait by noted Fort Sill photographer George A. Addison depicts two young Kiowa women with fringed printed cloth shawls and cradle-boards with traditional beaded decoration. The cradle-board on the right has two cloth dolls and a toy tea set attached to its top.

Lissie Woodward & son Oliver Cabinet photograph W . E. Irwin, Chickasha, IT, circa 1895 2002.188

Studio portrait of a young Kiowa mother, Lissie Woodward, and her son Oliver in a
cradleboard. The cradleboard exhibits traditional geometric Kiowa designs and studs in the support boards, while Lissie’s shawl is of a printed floral design.

Untitled [Two Osage women and a boy] Cabinet photograph Photographer unknown, circa 1880 2002.183
Studio portrait shows two Osage women and a young boy who is probably the son of one of the women. All three have identical earrings with bells, both women have silver brooches and the woman on the left has sun ray tattoos on the back of her hands, which is a traditional Osage practice.

Osages, Ton Kosh […] two wives & children Cabinet photograph W. M. Cavnar, Ralston, OT, circa 1900 2003.219.1
Studio portrait of an Osage family with the husband and two wives clothed in traditional Osage dress with striped fabric, beadwork and hat and the young boys dressed in European clothing complete with knickers, belts, and manufactured leather shoes.

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