By Julia Clark, Curator of Collections
In 2011, anthropologist and historian Alvin H. Morrison donated his collection of Native American material to the Abbe Museum. This small but wonderful collection includes pieces from both Wabanaki and neighboring communities, as well as several objects from further afield. Dr. Morrison, who graduated from Dartmouth College and received his PhD from University of Buffalo, worked with Wabanaki communities in Maine and eastern Canada, including working as a consultant on the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act case. He taught at SUNY-Fredonia for much of his career, but continued to focus his research on the Wabanaki. Upon his retirement in 1992, he returned to his home state of Maine, where he continues to research and write, with a focus on the contact and early interactions between Europeans and Native Americans in Maine.
The Wabanaki pieces from Dr. Morrison’s collection begin to fill a gap in the Abbe’s collection, representing objects made for sale during the 1960s and 1970s. And of course, since they were collected by an anthropologist, most of the pieces have a detailed provenance, recording when and where they were acquired, and who made them. Baskets, root clubs, moccasins, a model canoe and wigwam, are among the well-documented pieces from a part of the 20th century not well represented in our collections.
Two really special gems in the collections deserve a little more attention. One is a set of figures showing the various stages of making a basket. These were created by Dr. Morrison working with colleagues at SUNY-Fredonia, where he was a professor of anthropology. They were made for an exhibit titled “Crafts of the Maliseet Indians.” Slightly modified military action figures are position with scaled-down tools and materials, presenting a wonderful visual interpretation of the basketmaking process. These pieces have wonderful interpretive and educational potential, and we look forward to using them in exhibits and educational programs.
A second real treasure in the Alvin H. Morrison collection is a collection of screen-printed note cards made by Mi’kmaq craftspeople from the Elsipogtog First Nation (Big Cove Reserve) in New Brunswick, Canada. The cards were made in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many using designs created by Mi’kmaq artist Michael Francis, and they illustrate a variety of Mi’kmaq stories and legends. Like the basketmaking figures, these begin to fill a major gap in the Abbe’s collection- two-dimensional artwork by Wabanaki artists. They are visually stunning, and document and important creative and economic venture among First Nations communities in Canada at this time.
Collections staff and volunteers at the Abbe are in the process of completing the detailed cataloging of this collection, so expect to hear more about it in the future!
|Shaving the splints, from "Crafts of the Maliseet Indians"|
exhibit at SUNY-Fredonia, 1970
Shaving the splints, from “Crafts of the Maliseet Indians” exhibit at SUNY-Fredonia, 1970
Note card illustrating the “The Legend of the Tidal Bore,” in which Lobster battles Eel to return the fish to the river, creating a tidal bore that occurs twice a day to this day. Design and legend by Michael Francis. Screen printed by Micmac Indian Craftsmen, Big Cove Reserve, Kent Co., N.B