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Smith Collection HMNS Anthropology

New Addition: Stunning American Indian artifacts

The Gordon W. Smith North American Indian Collection was recently acquired by The Houston Museum of Natural Science with support from the Lillie and Roy Cullen Endowment Fund. 

“My family and I are thrilled to have the Houston Museum of Natural Science as the permanent home for the collection, which has been a central part of my life since I began acquiring these extraordinary relics in 1925 at the age of 5," said the late Gordon W. Smith. “After looking at many alternatives, we concluded that the Houston Museum of Natural Science is the perfect steward for these objects in terms of caring for and displaying them. In addition, the Museum has superb educational programs and an outstanding permanent exhibit which highlights the Americas’ indigenous cultures."

Smith began his collection of beautiful and fascinating American Indian artifacts back in the 1920s. He had a unique relationship with several American Indian tribes. These friendships drove his collection, as each visit brought more gifts and a sense that these amazing relics should be preserved. Artifacts include a leather rattler given to Smith at the age of five – the very first piece he acquired; striking, painted story bison skins of the Sioux; exquisite War Bonnets, created by the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne Indians, and even one made by Gordon W. Smith himself. Decorated with eagle feathers, these feathered headdresses were only given to men who had exhibited bravery during war. See more of Smith’s story in our video section.

This nationally-significant collection of over 600 objects comprises a wide range of artifacts of the material culture of all the major North American Indian culture groups, including dozens of examples of beautifully hand-crafted American Indian necklaces and stunning examples of American Indian clothing; ranging from beaded dresses and vests, to beaded moccasins from the far corners of the country, weapons, musical instruments and important examples of basketry and Southwestern pottery. Among the rarest items are two painted skins, including one of the few know examples of the Lone Dog Winter Count.

“Through the generosity of the Smith family, future generations will have a chance to glimpse a vanishing way of life-the daily life of American Indians," said Joel A. Bartsch, President of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. “We are grateful to Gordon (who died in March, 2010 at age 89) and his son, Dee Smith and daughter, Blaine Smith for making this acquisition possible. The artifacts collected by Gordon Smith augment the Museum’s magnificent John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, which explores thousands of years of Native American history."

As steward of the collection, the Houston Museum of Natural Science has entered into a cooperative sharing program with the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The Fort Worth Museum opened a special show featuring highlights from the Smith Collection in its new building in fall 2009. A program of ongoing loans and exhibits from this collection is planned between the two museums.

“It has been of the utmost importance to my father and our family to have a significant ongoing presence for his collection in Fort Worth, where he was born and has lived his entire life," said Dee Smith. “We are extremely gratified that we can continue our long family relationship with the Forth Worth Museum of Science and History through the collection sharing arrangement-and that the citizens of two great Texas cities will be able to experience the collection on a continuing basis."

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