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Native American Flutes in the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

On May 16, 2011, Vera and I visited the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection at the Colter Bay Visitor Center and Indian Arts Museum in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Thanks to the consideration of the National Park Service personnel Ms. Alice Hart and Mr. Laine Thom, we were able to examine, photograph, and catalog the flutes in the collection.

David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

Ralph H. Lewis describes the history of the David T. Vernon collection in his Museum Curatorship in the National Park Service 1904-1982 ([Lewis-RH 1993] Museum Curatorship in the National Park Service 1904–1982, Chapter 7, pages 272–273):

David T. Vernon, a commercial artist, was a well-informed, discriminating collector of Indian artifacts to whom museums turned when seeking outstanding specimens. Late in life he sold his collection to Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc., the non-profit organization headed by Laurance S. Rockefeller that channeled Rockefeller family support to the national parks. The corporation deposited the collection temporarily in the Museum of the American Indian in New York, which provided safe storage and curatorial care, expert cataloging, and a division of the specimens into four categories. The finest were to be exhibited at Jackson Hole. The museum would retain a selection of the second best. Items more useful for study than display would constitute a third group, and what remained might become available for preservation elsewhere.

In 1967 Laurance Rockefeller proposed that the Park Service accept the Vernon Collection as a five-year loan from Jackson Hole Preserve and exhibit it at Grand Teton National Park. The Service accordingly set out to remodel and enlarge the Colter Bay Visitor Center for the purpose. Retaining only the second category items, the Museum of the American Indian shipped the collection to Harpers Ferry, where the Branch of Museum Operations took over its curatorial care. Staff members unpacked, photographed, and carefully repacked for safe storage some 1,400 artifacts. With outside help the Service designed an exhibition that would serve the lender's desire to foster appreciation of the aesthetic quality of Native American material culture.

The Colter Bay museum opened in June 1972 with more than half the collection on attractive display. Jackson Hole Preserve extended the loan five more years, and the Service made important improvements in environmental conditions, security, and refinement of the exhibits at the museum. In December 1976 the corporation transferred ownership of the Vernon Collection to the Service as a gift. The specimens retained at Harpers Ferry were sent to the park, where the entire collection remains for ethnological study and interpretation.

 

Laine Thom and Clint Goss at the Colter Bay Museum

Laine Thom and Clint Goss
at the Colter Bay Museum Larger image

Our visit to the collection was arranged by Ms. Alice Hart. Mr. Laine Thom met us at the museum and assisted us in examining the flute (and even provided the white gloves).

The future of the collection is uncertain. As of November 2011, it has been sent to a conversation center (the Western Archaeological and Conservation Center in Tuscon, Arizona, according to Laine Thom).

 

 


The Flutes

The information in the table below and the following text descriptions in the tan boxes is taken from the typewritten catalog records of the museum that I was allowed to photograph. Annotations to the typewritten information that were made in pencil are shown as [red annotations]. Some of those annotation refer to Ed Wapp, and it is possible that all the annotations in pencil are from a visit he made to these flutes.

Those catalog records list all of the artifacts as having been received from the Jackson Hole Preserve on April 23, 1968, and cataloged by Joel H. Bernstein in August, September, or December of 1973. All are marked “ca. 1875—1900”.

Historic Flutes of the David T. Vernon Collection
Accession Number Title Culture Locality Measurements
Original New
JHP 601 5641 Courting Flute   Oklahoma 44.5 cm (17.52″)
JHP 599 5639 Courting Flute Northern Arapaho Wyoming 53 cm (20.9″)
JHP 598 5638 Courting Flute Dakota (Sioux) South Dakota 68 cm (26.8″)
JHP 402 1493 Flute Blackfeet [?] Northern Montana 34.5 cm × 5 cm
(13.589″ × 2″)
JHP 600 5640 Courting Flute Mandan [?] North Dakota 44.5 cm (17.52″)
JHP 733 5774 Whistle Crow [Prairie Siouan Ponca Osaga] Montana [Gt. Lakes / Prairies] 1.5 cm × 47.5 cm
(0.59″ × 18.70″)
JHP 517 5557 Whistle Sioux [Prairie Siouan] South Dakota 2 cm × 46.5 cm
(0.8″ × 18.31″)
JHP 1282 6321 Whistle Dakota (Sioux) [Prairie Siouan] South Dakota 2 cm × 46 cm
(0.8″ × 18.1″)
JHP 535 5575 [War] Whistle Crow [?] [General Gt. Lakes / Prairies] Eastern Montana 40.5 cm (15.94″)

Details

The details in the tan boxes are taken directly from the museum catalogs, with pencil [annotations in red]. You can click on any of the photos for a larger image:

JHP 601

Construction: Wooden flute with six finger holes and a wooden slide. Buckskin thongs are wrapped and spaced along the flute holding it together; two pieces of red cloth are also strapped around the flute.

Decoration: The flute is carved with an X at one end and there are remanents of blue, green, and yellow paint. One side of the sounding hole slide is painted yellow, the other side green and blue. The thongs are painted blue, red, and yellow.

History: ex coll. David T. Vernon. Paid $15.

Treatment: Sprayed with Mystox by E. Gaines, HFC.

... to working order by Ed Wapp 8/18/80. C. Hall

JHP 601 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 601 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 601 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 601 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 601 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 601 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 601 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 599

Construction: Six-holed wooden flute w/wooden slide. Flute is wrapped w/buck skin thongs & has fringe, chain & hair trim.

Decoration: Buckskin thongs around flute are dyed [painted B.J. 10-04] yellow & there is heavy string wrapping at either [(open end)] end. 2 pieces of chain are attached along bottom. The blow hole [is this a whale!?] slide is carved into animal [avian (bird)] form. A disc w/"J.P.? and a long strand of twisted human hair are attached to end of the chain.

History: Ex.Coll. David T. Vernon. Paid $15.00.

Treatment: Coin reattached by JLS at HFC, '71.

JHP 599 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 599 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 599 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 599 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 599 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 598

Construction: Six-holed wooden flute w/a carved bird's head at one end & a wooden slide on a betal base. The flute is wrapped w/string & has a buckskin thong for a handle.

Decoration: The bird's head is painted black w/red around the eyes.

History: Ex.Coll. David T. Vernon. Paid $8.00.

Treatment: Applied 2% Mystox in Stoddard's solvent. E. Gaines, HFC, '72.

JHP 598 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 598 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 598 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 598 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 598 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 402

[Probably made to sell to tourists]

Construction: Brass pipe flute w/six holes & woode holecover. Buckskin thonds are wrapped & fringed near the mouthpiece.

Decoration: Pink & green yarn wrapping & yellow paint on the thongs & wooden hole cover.

History: Ex.Coll. David T. Vernon. One end of the pipe is threaded, … number on wooden hole cover: 13/1493.

JHP 402 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 402 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 402 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 402 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 402 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 402 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 600

Construction: Wooden flute w/metal wrapped at sounding hole and a carved wooden slide and buckskin thong spaced along length of flute. There are six finger holes.

Decoration: Sounding hole slide carved into an animal form.

History: Ex.Coll. David T. Vernon. He paid $12.00.

JHP 600 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 600 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 600 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 600 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 600 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 733

Cane whistle tied with red ribbon.

Comment: Used in Sun Dance.

History: ex coll. David T. Vernon

Ed Wapp agrees its Crow - because of eagle quill reed - interesting that it is this far north - due to construction of the southwest nature 8/15/80. C. Hall (?)

JHP 733 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 733 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 733 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 733 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 517

Images of these last three flutes are at the end of this web page.

... wrapped cane whistle.

History: ex coll. David T. Vernon

JHP 1282

Construction: Cane whistle with brown ribbon trim.

History: Ex.Coll. David T. Vernon.

6/31/84 - reattached ribbon w. cotton thread. C. M. K.

JHP 535

Construction: Cane whistle w/blue ribbon tied in the middle.

History: Ex.Coll. David T. Vernon.

appears Generic Gt. Lakes

JHP 733 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection
JHP 733 from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

JHP 535 (top), JHP 1282 (middle), and JHP 517 (bottom) from the David T. Vernon Indian Arts Collection

 

 

 

 
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