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Monday, July 13, 2020

Hattie Meyers Weaver: Life During the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918

From an early age, Hattie Meyers was fascinated with flight. At first, being a “mere girl,” she contented herself with building models in her Glen Ridge, New Jersey, home with the help of her older brother Charlie, a member of the Aero Club of New York. She recalled her first model, made of cranberry red silk from Scotland, being named the “Red Devil” for the “wicked prohibitive sound and the hope that it would raise the ‘devil’ with the long distance model record held by Percy Pierce.” Hattie’s model shattered the record (and the cellar window)! Hattie’s model success gained her entry into the “boy’s” shop in back of their house, where she was nominally allowed to participate in their endeavor to build a man-carrying glider, often taking the blame for hijinks, all for the promise of a ride in the final product.

Hattie and Charles Meyers, ages five and seven. (Photo is dated 189[9], but is most likely 1903.) NASM 9A16573  
In 1916, Charlie brought home a friend from the Aero Club of Illinois—known only as “Buck.” Hattie immediately noted that he was “a real aviator and not just a model builder” and twenty-one to boot! She also was not a fan of the black and white checkered cap he constantly wore (not knowing that this was the proud symbol of an early aviator). As they courted, Hattie learned his full name was George Weaver. After he turned down an opportunity to fly with Katherine Stinson in Japan, George and Hattie announced their engagement on June 14, 1917, with the specter of the United States’ entrance into World War I looming.

Civilian Flying Instructors, Rich Field, Waco, Texas, January 1918. George E. “Buck” Weaver is the third from the left in the seated row. NASM 9A16576 
George and Charlie registered for the war and went to work at Aeromarine. Already a capable aviator tapped as a civilian flying instructor, George was first sent to the U.S. Naval Reserve School on Long Island then to Dayton and then to Rich Field in Waco, Texas. Hattie left everything she knew in New Jersey to meet his family in Chicago on her way to joining George in Texas. They married on February 12, 1918, with George rushing in from work, washing the castor oil off his face.

George “Buck” Weaver and Hattie Meyers Weaver together in Waco, Texas, March 19, 1918. NASM 9A16575
Hattie settled into life at Rich Field as a wife, impatiently waiting for the war’s end, even as Rich Field was struck by the influenza. George received a doctor’s note for influenza for over a week’s absence in April. Effective as of October 4, all officers and enlisted men were given antiseptic treatment daily as a precaution. Hattie recalled, “The big husky men at Camp MacArthur died faster than burial and when the wind blew from there the odor gave proof.” She noted the other target—pregnant women like herself.

Doctor’s letter, dated April 12, 1918, certifying that George “Buck” Weaver was absent from work due to influenza. NASM NASM.XXXX.0171-M0000127-00300
 On November 11, 1918, Hattie and George joined the Armistice parade in downtown Waco in their Buick convertible: “Flu and babies forgotten.” George obtained a leave of absence so that he could go to Chicago with Hattie to prepare for the baby. By the time they had reached St. Louis, Hattie knew she “had a cold, sneezes and snuffles.” She arrived in Chicago with a fever and full-blown influenza. Although she had “coughs that hurt and would not stop,” Hattie was apologetic that she was a sick nuisance to her mother-in-law.

George E. "Buck" Weaver and wife Hattie Meyers Weaver pose in their Buick Roadster, October 1918. Another version of this photograph was labeled “Mrs. W pregnant, flu epidemic.” NASM 9A16574

George Charles Weaver, nicknamed “Buddie,” was born on December 12, 1918. Hattie noted that the “fever had burned off the weight, the flesh was loose on the 5 lb. 3oz. baby.” She blamed herself and her illness for the premature birth and promised “to do better next time.” George exited the room and only later did Hattie learn he had fainted. He returned to Texas soon after to receive his discharge papers. He had been warned if he was not present, he would not receive the end-of-war separation benefits package.

Hattie convalesced in Chicago under the watchful eye of the Weaver family. Her doctor insisted that she needed to be strong and nurse the baby. Her youngest brother-in-law taught her how to walk again. George wrote often. It was difficult for Hattie to learn that many of the women with whom she had made baby clothes at Rich Field had succumbed to the flu, along with their children. In a January 5 letter, Hattie wrote: “George, that grips me by the heart at nights and when Son is sleeping quietly I have to feel him to be sure he is living. I have tried to write Mrs. Blair but each time I have become deathly sick. I cannot. Oh Georgie how grateful we are.” George returned to Chicago when Buddie was eight weeks old.

After the war, George Weaver took up barnstorming. In 1920, along with Clayton Bruckner and Elwood "Sam" Junkin, he founded the Weaver Aircraft Company. George “Buck” Weaver died on July 31, 1924, from a septic blister. He was eulogized by some of aviation’s greats, including Katherine Stinson: “You [Hattie] have been very dear to and made very happy this boy whom we all loved so dearly.”

Reproduction of July 29, 1924 telegram from Katherine Stinson to Hattie Meyers Weaver regarding the death of George “Buck” Weaver. NASM NASM.XXXX.0171-M0000014-00140

The company was later renamed Advanced Aircraft and, later, Waco (pronounced wah-co, as opposed to way-co). Hattie married Sam Junkin in 1926, but he died shortly afterwards (their daughter Janet was only a few months old). The company slipped out of Hattie’s hands soon after. The Waco Aircraft Company flourished during the interwar period as Waco aircraft were operated by public, private, military and corporate owners in thirty-five countries. During World War II, Waco devoted itself entirely to war production, particularly gliders, but could not adjust to the postwar market.

Hattie and her son Buddie lived long lives. In 1929, Hattie married Ralph Stanton Barnaby, a glider pilot, but the marriage was short-lived. Hattie wrote several versions of the Waco Company history. She was one of the first women to earn a glider class C license. She studied law at the University of Washington (DC), but fell ill before taking the bar.

Hattie Meyers Junkin with son George “Buddie” Weaver, age six, January 1927. Hattie noted on the back that she had trimmed her crepe tunic with beaver from an ageing coat. NASM 9A16577 
In 1976, an episode of the hit television show Upstairs Downstairs prompted Hattie to recall her bout of influenza in a letter to Buddie: “The report again in the final chapter of the ‘Spanish’ flu that caused more deaths than the millions slaughtered in [World] War One, naturally brings me agin [sic] to my carrying you, the Armistice, (pic in my album) of my Kewpie doll body as your father was chosen to lead the parade in our Buick convertible….” She revisited the circumstances of Buddie’s birth, adding, “Since then it is remarkable how we have escaped attempts, literally on our lives.” Hattie Meyers Weaver Junkin died in 1990 and George “Buddie” Weaver followed in 1991.

The National Air and Space Museum Archives holds the Hattie Meyers Junkin Papers, the Waco Aircraft Company Records, and the Ralph Stanley Barnaby Papers. The Waco collection includes almost 25,000 drawings on paper, business records (including purchase orders for individual aircraft), and engineering reports. Ralph Barnaby’s collection holds documents from his gliding career and correspondence received late in his life from other aviation pioneers.

Hattie’s papers are digitized, containing materials from every stage of her life. Her diaries and correspondence are especially rich in the World War I and early Waco periods. She saved everything for years, including photos and cards straight out of George “Buck” Weaver’s wallet and satchel, and donated the collection to the Museum in 1983. In fact, the Smithsonian TranscriptionCenter is looking for volunteers to transcribe materials from the Hattie Meyers Junkin Papers!

Elizabeth C. Borja
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Monday, June 29, 2020

Anders Zorn: Swedish Superstar and American Idol

Zorn’s self-portrait appears on the cover of the  brochure for a 
memorial exhibition that traveled the United States in 1925.  

“Special Exhibition of Oil Paintings and Water Colors by Anders Zorn.” 
Grand Central Art Galleries. Carnegie Institute, 
Museum of Art records, 1883-1962, bulk 1885-1940, Series 3: 
Exhibitions, Box 204, Folder 23: Zorn, Anders L., 1924-1925, 
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The year 2020 marks the centennial of the death of Swedish painter Anders Zorn (1860–1920). While he may no longer be a household name, at the time of his death at the age of sixty, Zorn was a world-renowned painter and etcher—highly sought after for portrait commissions not only throughout Europe but also across the United States. His sitters included three U.S. presidents, industrialists Andrew Carnegie and Robert Brookings, and countless other high society figures. Several days after his death was announced in the U.S. press, the New York Times ran a piece on Zorn noting: “Those who noticed the death of the Swedish artist Anders Zorn felt . . . a shock which may be taken as a measure of his significance in art.” [i]

Whereas Zorn’s friends and admirers in the United States were stunned by his death, it was even more deeply felt in Sweden, where he is still known as a “Swedish Superstar.” [ii] Zorn was born and raised in rural Mora, Sweden, about two hundred miles northwest of Stockholm. His mother, who had been working in Stockholm as a bottle washer in a brewery, returned to live with her parents in Mora after becoming pregnant. She gave birth to Zorn in a stable next to their farmhouse. Zorn’s artistic gifts were recognized at an early age. With initial support from his extended family, he made his way to the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm at the age of fifteen. Once there, Zorn managed to finance his living expenses, education, and appetite for travel through portrait commissions, eventually living and working for extended periods in London and Paris and traveling throughout Spain and Italy.

Zorn first traveled to the United States in 1893, when he led a delegation of Swedish artists exhibiting at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which is often referred to as the Chicago World’s Fair. His art and his personality alike made quite the impression on fair attendees. Two significant  sales at the event effectively launched Zorn’s career in the United States and brought new commissions: one was the purchase of his painting Omnibus (1892) by Isabella Stewart Gardner, which remains on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, and the other was the sale of The Waltz (1891) to George Vanderbilt, who installed it at his Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, where it can still be viewed.
Mary Hardin by Anders Zorn, date unknown 1977.134.2 
Etching Smithsonian American  Art Museum,  Gift of Laura Dreyfus 
Barney and Natalie Clifford Barney  in memory of their mother, 
Alice Pike Barney 

Zorn was a master etcher whose ability to depict light
and shadow with a few strokes was widely admired.

An article in Art Amateur, which ran at the time of the World’s Fair in 1893, commented, “Zorn’s manner may be said to be that of a careful and scientific Impressionist intent on getting the greatest possible amount of sunlight, quality of color and verity of expression into his work with the least possible display of means.” [iii] While the article was referring to Zorn’s etching, many of his paintings were also characterized by the use of a limited, tonal color palette and the skillful treatment of light. The same Art Amateur article includes the wry observation: “We believe that if a vote were taken, Mr. Zorn would turn out to be the most popular artist with artists at The World’s Fair.” [iv] This popularity was apparently not limited to fellow artists, as his initial trip to the United States led to lifelong friendships with Gardner, Chicago businessman Charles Deering, and others. Their well-documented travels throughout Europe and the United States, lengthy visits to each other’s homes, and extensive correspondence spanning the next twenty-five years, which is now saved in the archives of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Zornmuseet (Zorn Museum) in Mora, Sweden, attest to the depth of their affection for Zorn.

Oil on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution;
gift of the Reverend Thomas G. Cleveland

Zorn painted this portrait in 1899, two years after 
Cleveland had completed his second term. The sittings 
took place at the former president’s estate in Princeton, 
New Jersey, where the artist and subject bantered happily 
for several days. Cleveland expressed satisfaction with t
his portrait, declaring, “As for my ugly mug, I think the 
artist has ‘struck it off’ in great shape.” 
[Excerpted from the National Portrait Gallery’s
museum label]

How did a person of humble origins establish such easy rapport with U.S. high society? Zorn attributed the values instilled in him by his peasant grandparents as a key to his success in developing deep, lasting friendships in the United States. In his memoirs, Zorn wrote:

I got on well in America and with Americans. Their frank, straightforward manner suited my nature. I’ve never really been able to stand our urban Europeans’ ceremonious style and artificial customs . . . . But the simple rules of conduct that were so severely impressed on me by my grandfather from my earliest childhood were not so tricky; faithfulness, being true to one’s word, honesty and punctuality, were virtues I discovered were unnecessary with my fellow countrymen in the cities . . . . Why was I more than other foreigners during [my first visit to America] closest to the elite of American and introduced in all the clubs? Everywhere I went, I ascribed this to my grandfather, the splendid old Mora peasant who raised me until I was twelve… Over there [in America], when they say “he’s all-right,” all doors can open to the foreigner, which Europeans cannot understand. Openness, honesty, straight forwardness, punctuality, and true to friendship -- these things are included in the testimonial "he's all-right." [v] 

Zorn embraced the American entrepreneurial spirit and principles like authenticity, reliability, and trustworthiness that he felt defined his own character. Much like industrialists of the Gilded Age, he was a self-made man.

During Zorn’s third trip to the United States from 1898–1899, he was asked to paint President Grover Cleveland and First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland, who had recently left the White House. Although President Cleveland informed Zorn that “he would rather go to the dentist than to sit for his portrait,” [vi] he too was eventually won over by Zorn’s personality and engaging repartee. While Zorn gained additional prominence from the opportunity to paint a U.S. president, he was perhaps more inspired by the prospect of painting Frances Cleveland. A fashion icon noted for her beauty and charm, she has been referred to as the country’s “first celebrity first lady.” [vii] Pleased with the resulting portrait of Frances Cleveland, Zorn produced a copy of the painting and presented it to Isabella Stewart Gardner for her birthday in 1899.

Frances Folsom Cleveland by Anders Zorn, 1899 Oil 
on canvas National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian 
Institution; gift of Frances Payne S/NPG.77.124 

First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland’s portrait toured 
alongside her husband's as part of the memorial
exhibition organized in the U. S. after Zorn's death.

Although Zorn’s commissions ultimately made him wealthy, he stayed true to his roots, returning every summer to Mora and its surroundings to paint. While he is best known in the U.S. as a portrait painter, he is perhaps better known in Sweden for his depictions of rural folklife. With his earnings, he invested extensively in the community in and around Mora and the preservation of its traditional architecture, music, textiles, wood carving, and other folk arts. Likely inspired by Gardner’s plans to turn her home, Fenway Court, into a museum, Zorn and his wife Emma ensured that their home and studio would eventually be converted into a museum complex.

In 1924, four years after his death, an extensive memorial exhibition showcasing more than five hundred of Zorn’s works was held in Stockholm and highlighted the breadth of his career. Around the same time, a traveling exhibition organized by the Carnegie Institute also toured the United States. While the name Zorn may no longer elicit instant recognition in the United States, his body of work is worth revisiting, as is his unconventional path to superstardom, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his commitment to community, which continues to inspire.

By Beth Gottschling Huber, intern, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Catalog of American Portraits

i “The Art of Anders Zorn,” New York Times, August 29, 1920. 

ii “Zorn–A Swedish Superstar,” Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, accessed May 20, 2020, 

iii “Mr. Zorn’s Exhibition.” The Art Amateur: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Art in the Household (December 1893): 3. 

iv Ibid. 

v Cited after the English translation in William Hagans and Willow Hagens, Zorn in America: A Swedish Impressionist of the Gilded Age (Chicago: Swedish-American Historical Society in cooperation with the American Swedish Institute, 2009), 6. 

vi Ibid, 138. vii S. J. Ackerman, “The First Celebrity First Lady: Frances Cleveland,” Washington Post, July 3, 2013, accessed June 1, 2020,

Friday, May 29, 2020

Cultures in Motion: The Huichol Film Project 1973-1975 Part II

For Part I of this blog post please click here.

Image from copy at University of California Libraries.
Accessed via Internet Archive
Kalmun Müller was not to the first outsider to experience the Hikuri Neixa (a ceremony which marks the end of the Huichol year and the time prepare the soil for planting and to call upon the rain), but he was likely the first to film it. Other foreign researchers, mostly ethnographers, had visited San Andres Cohamiata during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The eminent Norwegian explorer and ethnographer Carl Lumholtz (1851 – 1922) had been the most prolific researcher to visit the place to date. On a grant from the American Museum of Natural History, Lumholtz visited most of the indigenous communities in Sierra Madre from 1895 to 1898. Following this experience, in 1900 and in 1902, Lumholtz would author Symbolism of the Huichol Indians and Unknown Mexico, which remain important works on the Huichol. 

Like Lumholtz, Müller also extensively documented Huichol lifeways, but he stuck to the camera. After filming the Hikuri Neixa ceremony in 1973, Müller produced and helped produce four more film projects totaling 43,590 feet of film (approximately 20 hours).[i] The Huichol ceremonies of Las Pachitas, the Peyote Pilgrimage, and the
Cambio de Varas are among other important ceremonies that Müller documented. Aspects of daily life of Huichols, with a particular emphasis on child rearing and development also figure prominently in the films.

Notes for camera roll 28, 
helping to identify film after processing and printing.
HSFA 1989.3.3 (ephemera)
This interest did not come from Müller himself, but came from of a group of researchers at the National Institute of Health, the patrons who had financed Müller’s expedition into the Sierra Madre.[ii]

Indeed, one key difference between the film project Müller led in Mexico and the film projects he had led in Europe or the South Pacific, was that the former was conceived and produced as a scientific project. The project was itself part of a broader research agenda to use film as a research method.

According to E. Richard Sorenson, Müller’s supervisor for this project and one of the proponents of the film research agenda:

because the light sensitive emulsion of film produces an objective chemical facsimile of the pattern of light falling on it, it preserves a phenomenological record of the pattern of light received. The data does not have to be screened by the cognitive organization of a human observer before it can be preserved. Because of this, film preserves information not just of what has been “seen” and “selected” by the culturally programmed mind of the filmer but also what he has not.[iii]

Film, in other words, would be inevitably more objective a method of describing reality than the pen of even the most experienced researcher. Unlike humans, the argument went, cameras could capture a fuller representation of the present, which would enable future researchers to see aspects which would have otherwise escaped the eye of the field researcher. Sorenson’s perspective was heavily influenced by his mentor Margaret Mead, who also believed in the objectivity and emancipatory nature of film. It was this faith in film that motivated Mead to help found the National Anthropological Film Center in 1975, the predecessor to today’s Human Studies Film Archives.

Huichol social interaction at the Fiesta de las Pachitas, Summer 1974 [iv]
Frame grab from HSFA 1989.3.1-3A
Applied to the Huichol people of San Andres, the research film method would generate increased understanding on questions such as: How do children in isolated societies become “enculturated”? How do psychedelic plants influence indigenous social organization? And, perhaps more importantly, what can the U.S. learn from people like the Huichol to address their own sociocultural ailments?[v]  

In practice, however, the research film method as Müller applied translated into long and mostly static takes without an explicit narrative arc or angle, and indeed most of the 46 film rolls that make up this collection were made this way. The other, and perhaps more important component of the Huichol project as a scientific enterprise, was the annotations to the films themselves. Dozens of synchronized and non-synchronized, Spanish and English annotations accompany the films Müller made. These annotations, drafted in collaboration with Eliseo Castro Villa (Müller’s main indigenous informant/collaborator in San Andres) and Rocio Echaverría (a government nurse who had worked in San Andres for many years prior to Müller’s arrival and who would marry him in 1973), added a rich layer of detail on the specific names and processes for the people, ceremonies, plants and other things filmed. 

Kalmun Müller narrating the first time a child in San Andres Cohamiata consumes peyote during the Hikuri Neixa ceremonyWinter 1975. HSFA 1989.3.3-9A 16mm workprint (Workprint is a temporary copy of film footage used for editing. It can have unstable color dyes causing the film to fade to a reddish hue.)

This added layer greatly amplifies the amount of contextual information about the moving images that appear on the films. But it would be after longs hours of conversation—while annotating these films behind a flat bed editing table—when Müller, Castro, and Echaverría would reveal even more telling pieces of information regarding Huichol culture and behavior. For it was at these times, when the commentators would reveal in jest, irritation, or silence, how their visions and concerns about the Huichol people differed. 

It is through Echaverría’s silence, punctuated with occasional outbursts of detailed information during one of these sessions, that one learns about the ways the Huichol people were coping with the debt and poverty the U.S.-backed Green Revolution was bringing to Huichol communities in the early ‘70s. [vi] It is through Müller’s repetitive dismissal of her comments that we may infer why she keeps mostly silent through the annotation process. It is also through Castro’s mocking of Müller as a friend of the Huichols who does not know their names that we learn about his possible irritation with the project.[vii]  A frustration which other Huichols may or may not have shared with Castro but that nonetheless makes one wonder: what was the story on the other side of the lens?

Photo by Kalmun Müller, 1975
As master storytellers who were historically weary of the power of narratives in shaping their cultures, landscapes, and societies, who knows how the Huichol of San Andres Cohamiata may have bent their own reality for Müller’s camera?  
We may never know, but what is certain is that to understand how cultures negotiate power in film, we must look at what lay behind the camera as well as in front of it.  
Enabling viewers to do so—to see through both sides of the lens—is indeed what makes the Huichol Film Project most remarkable. Influenced by the scientific film method, the extensive annotations and structured approach to filmmaking of this collection offer not only a more nuanced image of the Huichol people as film subjects, but also a more detailed glimpse into the culture and perspective of its filmmakers. As a clear and multifaceted window into the past, this collection represents a valuable resource for scholars interested in the history of film and of the Huichol people. For its incredible detail on the social and cultural practices of their ancestors, the Huichol Film Project should be of most interest and value to the Huichol people of San Andres Cohamiata. 

José Carlos Pons Ballesteros
Graduate Fellow
NMNH-Department of Anthropology

Original film footage of the Huichol Film Project, along with sound recordings and associated documentation, form part of the collections of the Human Studies Film Archives.  You can find more information about this film collection here.

[i] According to catalogue records the Huichol Film Project is made of 50 camera rolls, according to the Processing Proposal for the collection, the Huichol Film Project is made of 46 rolls.  Muller’s footage was used to produce the edited film Huichols: People of the Peyote around 1976. Thomas Perry produced this film in collaboration with Steven Dreben, who edited and directed it.

[ii] There is dark back story to the main proponents of this research film method, visual anthropologist E. Richard Sorenson (1939 – 2015) and his mentor medical researcher Carleton Gajdusek (1923 – 2008), interest in childhood development, which I will not address here as it is complex and not the focus of this essay.  Suffice it to say that Gajdusek was charged with child molestation in April 1996. For more information about this watch the excellent documentary The Genius and the Boys by Bosse Lindquist (2009) or read: Spark, Ceridwen. 2009. “Carleton’s Kids: The Papua New Guinean Children of D. Carleton Gajdusek.” The Journal of Pacific History 44 (1): 1–19. 

[iii] Quote drawn from The Huichol Film Project, Unfinished Draft of the Huichol Enculturation: a Preliminary Report. Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian NMNH.

 [iv] The Huichols celebrate the Fiesta de las Pachitas around the time of Ash Wednesday. This ceremony mixes Mesoamerican, Mexican, and Catholic symbolism and rituals to commemorate the early attempts by Catholic missionaries to convert the Huichol people into Christianity. For this festival the Huichol participants are divided into two main bands, the Jews and the Toros, while the rest of the community watches, as the film roll 89.3.1-3A suggests, often in jest. The Jews represent the Huichol ancestors. The Huichol represent the Jews by painting their faces black, some men dressing as women, all of whom try to escape the Toros. Huichols representing the Toros carry red flags and bull horns with which they run after the Jews. One interesting historical relationship this festival, and in particular the depiction of Christian missionaries as Toros, may speak to is the connection between the arrival of Christianity and the development of cattle agriculture in northwest Mexico. For more information on this complex ceremony read:  Jáuregui, Jesús. "Las Pachitas en la Mesa del Nayar (Yaujque’e)." Dimensión antropológica 34 (2009). 

[v] The Huichol Film Project, Grant Application. Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian NMNH. The question as to what Western society can learn from indigenous peoples is not unique to the Huichol film project, in fact it has served as the inspiration for much of the ethnographical research that has been conducted for the last half-century. For a short but interesting comment on this matter see the Introduction by Kathleen Berrin in her edited book Art of the Huichol Indians, 1979.

[vi] Huichol FIlm Project, 1975, sound roll 1989.3.3-1, annotation track in Spanish. This tape describes the First Use of  a Corn Thresher

[vii] Huichol FIlm Project, 1975, round roll 1989.3.1-14, annotation track in Spanish. This tape describes the yearly Huichol Tree Planting Ceremony

Monday, May 18, 2020

Silver Horn’s Winter Count: An Archival Record of Indigenous Time Featured in a Smithsonian Exhibition

Elena Myers, Diana Marsh, and Candace Greene

Documenting Diversity: How Anthropologists Record Human Life is an exhibit showcasing the history of anthropological fieldwork through rare archival and print materials from the National Anthropological Archives and the Smithsonian Libraries. The exhibit, two cases in the Evans Gallery (ground floor) of the National Museum of Natural History, opened on March 12 and will be on view for 16 months when the museum reopens.
Specifically, the show traces the progress of technologies used to record human life, from paper to film to today’s digital media. The exhibit also grapples with the limits of such documents. Some ethnographic “data” resist documentation. It may be hard to record, or Indigenous community members may not choose to share it (especially with white anthropologists collecting it). But this is not always the case.
Figure 1Page from Silver Horn's winter count depicting the years 1832-1835. As anthropologist Candace Greene describes in her book on Silver Horn, the wolf drawn in the first summer indicates that the Medicine Lodge Ceremony was held at Wolf Creek that year. The following summer (represented by a tree in leaf, because no Medicine Lodge Ceremony was held) marks the massacre of a Kiowa village in which the Osage attackers carried off the sacred Taime, the figure shown shrouded in feathers. After that was the winter the stars fell, when a meteor shower was visible across the PlainsMS 2531, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

The exhibit features an exquisite piece in the hand of
master illustrator Silver Horn, or Haungooah. Silver Horn (Figure 1) was a Kiowa artist distinguished for his prolific career and intricate drawing style.
The “Silver Horn pictorial calendar,” as it is listed in the Smithsonian Collections catalog, is called a “winter count” (sai-guat) by the Kiowa. Smithsonian anthropologist James Mooney commissioned the calendar in 1904, and today it stands as an exceptional record of Native historical knowledge preserved in document form.
In Silver Horn’s rendering, time passes left to right across the page, marking winters with bare trees and summers with the forked pole that was erected in the annual Kado, Medicine Lodge Ceremony. The drawings associated with each season marker depict noteworthy events of communal memory. For example, the winter of 1833-34 is remembered as “The Year the Stars Fell,” after the striking Leonid meteor shower (Figure 1).
As a collective history standardized for use by all Kiowas, the events chosen to “name” specific seasons were not necessarily the most important, but rather the most memorable—the death of a well-known warrior, the outbreak of a deadly disease, or the location of the Kado that brought the entire tribe together.
Figure 2: As Greene writes in One Hundred Summers: A Kiowa Calendar Recordin this “Pawnee killed winter,” Silver Horn’s detailed rendering of the dress and decoration of a noted brave Pawnee warrior demonstrates his respect for the figure. MS 2531, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Knowledge of history was held in communal memory and passed down through the oral tradition. The responsibility for recording year names their chronological order was assigned to calendar-keepers (a role Silver Horn inherited from his great-uncle Tohausan, a principal chief of the Kiowas, by way of his father also called Tohausan).
Figure 3: Summer of 1849: Entry for the summer of the Cramp Kado. The crouched figure represents the cholera epidemic that swept the Plains that year. Silver Horn also notes the death of On the Arrow from the disease with a unique pictorial convention, the death owl. The cradles in the bottom right corner denote two significant births. MS 2531, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

All members of the community could then refer to the calendar when placing their own life’s events, when the calendar made appearances at social gatherings. Silver Horn told Mooney that he was born in the summer that Bird Appearing was killed, 1860 (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Summer 1860: Entry for Bird Appearing killed summer, shown with a bullet streaking toward his name glyph. MS 2531, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Most winter counts were intended as utilitarian mnemonic devices (Figure 5). Detailed narrative illustration conventions were reserved to tell stories of war. Silver Horn appears to have merged these two traditions, creating a novel form of historical storytelling.

Figure 5: James Quitone (Wolf Tail), winter count page representing the years 1847-1849. MS 2002-27, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

The calendar commissioned by Mooney in 1904 is actually a copy, reproduced from Silver Horn’s less-elaborate original. Silver Horn maintained the original for several decades after the copy ends, and passed many of the stories on
to his family. The calendars thus stand not only as a record of the past, but as an investment in the future: the endurance of Kiowa history.

Documenting Diversity was curated by postdoctoral fellow Diana E. Marsh and Curator of  Globalization and Acting Director of the NAA Joshua A. Bell, and collaboratively produced by the National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives, the Smithsonian Libraries, and Smithsonian Exhibits. When it reopens, it will be on view in the Evans Gallery on the ground floor of the National Museum of Natural History for 16 months.

Elena Myers is a senior and student archivist at Bryn Mawr College where she is majoring in History. In summer 2019 she was an intern at the National Anthropological Archives. Diana Marsh is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Anthropological Archives.

Diana E. Marsh is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Anthropological Archives where she researches access to Indigenous archival collections.
Candace Greene is an anthropologist of the Plains Indians who was based at NMNH until her retirement, and worked closely with the Silver Horn family and other Kiowa people to combine Indigenous perspectives with archival research on Mooney and other turn-of-the-century anthropologists. Greene has published extensive “translations” of these calendars, and this post relies heavily on her research and publications.

Greene, Candace S. Silver Horn: Master Illustrator of the Kiowas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.
———One Hundred Summers: A Kiowa Calendar Record. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009
Mooney, James. Calendar History of the Kiowa Indians. In The Seventeenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1895-96. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1898.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Cultures in Motion: The Huichol Film Project, 1973-1975 - Part I

Young Huichol man sitting on a cliff overlooking the Western Sierra Madre, Summer 1974
Frame grab from HSFA 1989.3.1-8

Before arriving in the Western Sierra Madre of Mexico in April 1973 to produce one of the richest visual ethnographic collections of the Huichol community of San Andres Cohamiata to date, Hungarian-American filmmaker Kalmun Antal Müller (1939 – ) had already had a wealth of experiences. By his mid-thirties, Müller had traveled extensively across Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and the South Pacific, making films and writing articles for popular and academic outlets such as Atlas, National Geographic, and the Journal de la Société des Océanistes along the way. Müller had also worked as an administrator for the United Nations in Zaire (now D.R.C.) and as a translator for the Department of State in the U.S.— all while moonlighting as a doctoral student in French Literature at the University of Arizona.[i]

Like most of the places where Müller had spent time through the 1960s and early 1970s, San Andres Cohamiata was not a town one could easily get to. This village or rancho (in Huichol lore) sat (and still sits) in a high plateau, some 6,000 feet above sea level, amid deep, treacherous barrancas—in what is perhaps one of the roughest landscapes in Mexico and the Americas. That the Huichol ancestors settled in this difficult terrain some four hundred years before Müller arrived on the scene was not an accident. Around 1530, following a series of military conflicts known today as the Mixtón Wars, through which the Spanish state and their Nahuatl indigenous allies sought to subjugate northern Mesoamerican peoples, the Huichol ancestors fled west from the lower and drier valleys of what is now the Mexican State of San Luis Potosi to the Sierra Madre highlands.[ii]  One could imagine that the smallpox, measles and other epidemics which decimated Mesoamerican populations to about five percent of its pre-contact numbers would have also provided a strong incentive for the Huichol ancestors to seek geographical isolation.

By the early seventeenth century, the Huichol environment was so uninviting to the eyes of the Spanish government and their indigenous allies that they referred to it as Colotlán--Nahuatl for “the place of scorpions.”

 Carrying a French-made,16-mm Eclair movie camera, a Swiss-made Nagra sound recording system, and a Japanese-made Pentax 120 still camera, along with enough batteries and film rolls to make these gadgets work, what Müller found and recorded upon his arrival in San Andres was one of the most culturally (and geographically) isolated communities in Mexico in the 1970s. At the same time, the residents’ way of life had been increasingly changing over the last few centuries. While Huichols had been relatively successful in evading colonial governments by taking refuge amid the Sierra Madre, they had been less successful escaping other influences such as the Catholic Church and, increasingly, Mexican bureaucrats. Thus, what Müller found on his first visit to San Andres, and what his film footage would most clearly depict, was a Mesoamerican culture in motion: a community with so well preserved a heritage that the traces of its cultural transformation were still fresh.

Huichol man and children, 1975.  Photo by Kalmun Müller.

The Hikuri Neixa ceremony is a case in point, as it was the first ceremony Müller documented in the Sierra Madre (HSFA 1989.3.4).   He recorded this ceremony, which formally marks the end of the Huichol year, on his first visit to San Andres in April 1973 and 1974. 

Huichol peyote seeker painting his face during the Hikuri Neixa ceremony, Winter 1974
Frame grab from HSFA 1989.3.2-4
The film of this ceremony shows a group of indigenous people under a midday sun painting bright yellow figures (such as suns, snakes, rain drops, and maize plants) over each other’s faces, while other people drink, dance, and make more yellow paint by grinding up in a molcajete[iii] a root named urra (Mahonia trifofiolata)[iv], Huichol for spark. The painted images represented (and that participants sought to elicit) the blessings and protection of Tatewari, or the god Fire, one of the main deities for the polytheistic Huichol and the most important one for assuring a good harvest for the upcoming year.  Tortillas and beans as well as tepe (a kind of beer made of maize) flow in abundance during the celebration.

Peyote pilgrims on their way to Wirikuta, the sacred land. Summer 1974
Frame grab from HSFA 1989.3.1-4
 Beyond drink and food, during this ceremony Huichols share and consume their sacred peyote plant (Lophophora williamsii).  The Hikuri Neixa (the name of which comes from hikuri, Huichol for peyote, and neixa, Huichol for dance), is as much a celebration marking the end of the Huichol year as a celebration of the end of the peyote pilgrimage to the Huichol sacred land Wirikuta.[v] This is no coincidence, as the peyote pilgrimage is one of the most important rituals for pleasing Tatewari and other Huichol deities. During the pilgrimage to Wirikuta, Huichols gather many of the sacred plants they will use for rituals throughout the year, such as the yellow urra itself. For the Huichol, returning to one’s community with ample quantities of peyote, urra, and other goods to share with the community indicated a successful pilgrimage.  Judging by the liberal amounts of tepe the peyote seekers or kawiteros[vi] drank during the Hikuri Neixa ceremony of 1973, one could assume the peyote hunt for that year was a fruitful one.[vii]

To learn more about the Huichol Film Project check back soon for part 2!

José Carlos Pons Ballesteros
Graduate Fellow
NMNH-Department of Anthropology

Original film footage of the Huichol Film Project, along with sound recordings and associated documentation, form part of the collections of the Human Studies Film Archives.  You can find more information about this film collection here.

[i] Information about Müller for this paragraph drawn from The Huichol Film Project, Kalman Müller’s 1975 C.V.  Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian NMNH.. 

[ii] According to Peter Furst’s Rock Crystals and Peyote Dreams (2006) and to Stacey Shaefer’s Huchol Women, Weavers, and Shamans (2015) linguistic proximity suggests the people today identified as Guachichils as the most likely ancestors of the Huichol.

[iii] The stone-made traditional Mesoamerican equivalent to the mortar and pestle. 

[iv] Ethnobotanist James A. Bauml et al. were the first scholars to uncover the scientific classification for the urra plant. Their findings were published in the Journal of Ethnobiology in 1990. Bauml, James, Gilbert Voss, and Peter Collings. 1990. “Uxa Identified.” Journal of Ethnobiology 10: 99–101. 

[v] Indeed, according to Schaefer and Furst (1996), the main purpose of the Hikuri Neixa (The Dance of the Peyote) Ceremony would be to prepare the soil for planting and to call upon the rain. The successful “hunt” of peyote would thus be an activity important as a means to both supply the community with this sacred plant as well as invoke the blessings of the Gods for the growing season. As a ceremony linking hunting and agriculture, the Hikuri Neixa represents the hybrid ecological and productive heritage of the Huichol people.  Schaefer, Stacy B., and Peter T. Furst. 1996. People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian History, Religion & Survival. UNM Press. Other scholars such as french anthropologist Michel Perrin (1994), and Kalman Muller himself referred to this same ceremony as “Hikurineira.”  Perrin, Michel. 1994. “Notes D’Ethnographie Huichol: La Notion de  ‘ma’ive’ et  la  nosologie.” Journal de La Société Des Américanistes 80: 195–206.

[vi] The peyote seekers or kawiteros are identifiable by their large squirrel-adorned sombreros. 

[vii]Information about the Hikuri Neixa for this paragraph drawn from: The Huichol Film Project, Document #3, p. 9.  Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian NMNH. August 2019. Schaefer and Furst (1996) also provide important information about this ceremony in their book People of the Peyote.