October 21, 2005

Cornell Acquires Historic Native American Exhibit

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The Cornell University Library opens a new exhibition today titled “Vanishing Worlds, Enduring People: Cornell Library’s Native American Collection”. The exhibition features a selection from a collection of 40,000 books and materials documenting aspects of Native American art, languages, sociological data and major historical events.

Some of the notable elements of the exhibit include the original Treaty of Peace signed in 1765 by the Delaware Nation, agreeing to become allies of the King of England, a $5 receipt signed by Geronimo in 1896, and a non-English Bible published in 1685 by John Eliot, a preacher in the Massachusetts Bay area. Selected works of artists such as George Catlin and Karl Bodner are also displayed, among other works of art chronicling Native American life as far back as the 16th century.

“This phenomenal collection deserves wider use, and we need to ensure that the public can consult and learn from these books and other documents for centuries to come,” said Sarah Thomas, University librarian, in a statement.

The collection was originally housed in the Huntington Free Library in the Bronx, New York, but due to financial issues, in 1999, the library decided to look for a new home to effectively maintain it. The library feared the rare materials were not being safely stored and hoped to find better means of conserving them.

“The attorney general contacted us and several other institutions which might be interested in [acquiring the collection],” said Katherine Reagan, curator of the Rare Books collection at the Carl A. Kroch Library. “After a process of evaluation … the Huntington Free Board of Trustees voted for Cornell.”

“We hope by having this collection here, since we live in an area with many Native Americans, that they’ll be interested in using this collection,” said David Block, curator of Native American and Latin American Studies at Kroch Library. “This is just the tip of the iceberg … People will have access to the entire collection. We could take out parts of [this exhibition] if people need access to it.”

The entire collection is valued at $8.3 million, but the University acquired the collection for $2.5 million from the Huntington Free Library.

Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) announced on Wednesday that a $250,000 federal grant was given to aid the library in preserving this collection, as part of the federal “Save America’s Treasures” grant program.

“I’m delighted that Cornell University has received this federal award, which will allow for proper preservation of this incredibly fascinating collection,” Hinchey wrote in a press release. “Cornell University is well suited to safeguard this collection and display it in a way that scholars and the public will find useful when examining Native American history.”

Prof. Jane Mt Pleasant, horticulture, director of the American Indian Program, said in a statement, “This outstanding collection of materials will serve scholars in multiple areas of American Indian Studies, enhancing the academic work of faculty and students at Cornell and elsewhere for decades to come.”

The exhibit will be displayed until June 2006 and the entire collection is held at Kroch Library.

“Cornell’s Preservation and Conservation Department has deep expertise that can preserve these records of our history, the touchstone of our past and the inspiration for our future,” Thomas added.

Archived article by Julie Geng
Sun Senior Writer