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Visualizing a Mission: Artifacts and Imagery of the Carlisle Indian School, 1879-1918
A rich visual record remains of the controversial Carlisle Indian School and is the centerpiece of The Trout Gallery's exhibition "Visualizing a Mission: Artifacts and Imagery of the Carlisle Indian School, 1879-1918." These photographs, student art, campus publications and native clothing will be on view from January 30 through Febuary 28, 2004 at Dickinson College's Trout Gallery. (right: Photo by J.N. Choate, "Wounded Yellow Robe, Henry Standing Bear, Timber Yellow Robe: Taken Upon Their Arrival in Carlisle," n.d., albumen print mounted on card. The photo is from the Waidner-Spahr Library, Special Collections, Dickinson College)
An opening reception for the "Visualizing a Mission" exhibition will be held from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, January 30 at The Trout Gallery. An exhibition catalog will be available at the gallery and contains six essays illustrated with many previously unpublished artifacts and photos. The catalog was prepared by Dickinson students from the Art Historical Methods seminar who also curated the show.
From 1879 to 1918, Carlisle was home to one of the earliest Indian boarding schools in the country. The school was a prototype for a series of educational institutions created by the U.S. government to instruct Native Americans in western thought, culture and industry. The schools were part of a larger government effort to address issues raised by the reservation system and the destruction of traditional life among the native populations. Created and directed by Capt. Richard Henry Pratt, the school was designed to strip students of their traditional ways and re-dress them in western language, clothes, religion and values. By eliminating the Indian identity, Pratt believed that his "civilizing" mission was saving the man. (left: Photo by J.N. Choate, "Wounded Yellow Robe, Henry Standing Bear, Timber Yellow Robe: Taken 6 Months After Entrance to School," n.d., albumen print mounted on card. The photo is from the Waidner-Spahr Library, Special Collections, Dickinson College)
The artifacts in this exhibition illustrate various educational, cultural and visual facets of the Carlisle Indian School and how the institution served to "civilize" Native Americans as part of a larger process of government directed cultural assimilation.
Over the course of its 39-year history, the Carlisle Indian School enrolled more than 8,000 students and produced a large body of records and artifacts. In the exhibition and its catalog, members of the Art Historical Methods Seminar bring to light and analyze a body of largely unpublished material, most of it drawn from the Dickinson College collections with additional works borrowed from the Cumberland County Historical Society. Working with these artifacts, each of the seminar members identified specific topics for focused research, according to Phillip Earenfight, seminar adviser and director of The Trout Gallery.
The catalog's six essays provide insight into the Carlisle Indian School and how the surviving photographs and artifacts open a view into the Indian boarding school experience in America. The essays cover a variety of topics such as the Winnebago Indian art instructor who introduced her students to the arts practiced by their ancestors, breaking with previous requirements that all aspects of traditional life be excluded from the school's curriculum. Another essay explores how the image of the Indian became a commodity to be sold and commercialized.
"It is hoped that the students' findings help us to better understand artifacts that visualize the mission," says Earenfight.
Dickinson College's Trout Gallery is located in the Weiss Center for the Arts, West High Street between West and College streets, Carlisle, PA. For hours and admission fees please see the Gallery's website.
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