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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cool Stiles


William F. Stiles, Self-portrait, Quebec, Canada, 1958.
Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian (S02131).
 Before joining the staff of the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation in May 1938, William F. Stiles (1912–1980) was George G. Heye's personal driver. An employee of the Museum for almost forty years, Stiles retired in March 1978 as the Curator of Collections. Although Stiles published very little, he was an active field collector and participated in numerous archaeological expeditions. During his collecting trips on behalf of the Museum, Stiles made hundreds of photographs among the Attikamekw, Innu, Miccosukee, Mohawk, Mushuaunnuat, Narragansett, Niantic, and Seminole peoples. All are housed in the William F. Stiles collection of negatives, slides and photographic prints, 1938-1974 at the National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center.

More than half of the collection consists of photographs made among the Innu in Quebec, Canada, in 1952, 1958, 1959, and 1964. In addition to informal outdoor portraits, the photographs depict Innu men, women, and children undertaking a variety of activities, including preparing food, constructing dwellings, fishing, making and repairing canoes, preparing animal skins for the production of clothing, and knitting. For some of these photographs, Stiles recorded the names of the individuals who appear in them. Fortunately, descendants who have visited the NMAI Photo Archives have subsequently identified or re-identified pictured family members. It appears that in 1958 and 1959 he accompanied an Innu band on a fishing trip and that he formed personal relationships with several individuals.


William F. Stiles, Tommy Mastokacho (Innu) playing the guitar,
Mingan, Quebec, Canada, 1958. Smithsonian Institution,
National Museum of the American Indian (S02178).
In fact, the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation records (also housed at the NMAI Archive Center) contain letters written to Stiles from the young Tommy Mastokacho. In the letters written from 1964 to 1968, Mastokacho informs Stiles of his health, his plans for hunting trips into the woods, and various building projects taking place in Mingan, his village. He also makes requests of Stiles. Of concern to most any young man, guitar strings were primary among them. Here, in a photograph from 1958, the fashionable Mastokacho—pompadour and all—strums his guitar and allows his gaze to drift away from Stiles’s camera. Not in the least camera shy, this rural Canadian youth presents himself as the embodiment of American cool.

Of the hundreds of photographs in the collection, five are posted to the National Museum of the American Indian’s Collections Search site. For access the entire William F. Stiles collection of negatives, slides and photographic prints, 1938-1974, please contact the NMAI Photo Archives.

 --Heather Shannon, Photo Archivist, NMAI Archive Center

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