Tomaquag "Belonging(s)" Blog
"A close relationship among a group and personal or public effects"
After last months spring-like weather, winter has finally made an appearance. However, like the mailman, the staff and board of Tomaquag refuses to let a little snow keep us from our work on "the little gem that could".
This month's blog takes a look at the work being done on the Strong Horse Collection from a collections management perspective. But first let me share a bit of background information on the donor and the collection.
A member of the Narragansett Tribe, Kenneth "Strong Horse" Smith was born February 13, 1921 in Orange, CT. As a child Strong Horse contracted Polio and did not learn to walk until he was four years old. According to relatives, he "scooted" around in his wagon which made his legs stronger. At the age of nine he was give his Native American name "Strong Horse" because of his personality and character. After high school he joined the military and fought in World War II. In 1946 Strong Horse was elected sub-chief to the Narragansett Tribe remaining active in tribal politics until 2003. More importantly, throughout his life Chief Strong Horse was and continues to be considered one of the most revered keepers of the Narragansett Tribe's cultural traditions such as ceremonial practices, music and dance. He also collected materials that document the history of the Narragansett Tribe and people. The collection includes materials passed down to him by his grandfather.
In 2006, Chief Strong Horse and his family donated the collection to the Tomaquag Museum. The collection consists of objects, photos, archival and library materials. It is unknown at this time the total quantity of materials in this massive collection, however since 2006 hundreds of archival materials have been documented and organized with the help of volunteers, board members and tribal elders. Because Tomaquag is such a small organization with limited finances and manpower, cataloging the collection has been tackled by asking ourselves questions such as:
• Does the collection meet the museum's mission?
• Do we have the ability to care for the collection using the appropriate museum standards now and in the future?
• What is its value in terms of its importance to the Narragansett community, other Native American groups and the public?
The museum is currently located in a very old house. Therefore if you haven't guessed already, we have to work very hard to protect the collections from environmental hazards along with having a very small storage space. With all of these dilemmas, it was decided that the best way to protect the collection was to rehouse as much of it as possible starting with the Strong Horse Collection.
Over the past several years consultant Ani Rivera, owner of Archival Matters, Inc. along with staff, interns, and volunteers of Tomaquag have worked on cataloging, photographing and rehousing the objects or "belonging(s)" in the collection. Many of them in need of custom made storage boxes. We would not have been able to undertake this project without the help provided by the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Business Development, Kimball Foundation and Champlin Foundations. We are very grateful for their support which has helped us not only care for the collections but increase our staff. Along with this internal rehousing project, the museum is looking for a new home. We are vetting out several possibilities for a new home including the idea of building a new home. See our Master Plan http://www.tomaquagmuseum.org/future-home-master-plan/ funded by the Lattner Foundation.
As of this writing Chief Strong Horse is ninety-five years old and although he is unable to move about as he once did, he remains one of the most respected Elders of the Narragansett Tribe. Soon, a film about the history of Tomaquag Museum will be completed. It includes interviews with Chief Strong Horse regarding his involvement with Tomaquag Museum over its 58 year history.
Kutaputush (Thank You) and Stay Warm!
Kim Peters, Collections Manager
The Tomaquag "Belonging(s)" Blog, is a monthly conversation dedicated to the happenings, musings of staff, and a peek at the collections of the Tomaquag Museum. We welcome guest bloggers, and topics relevant to Native American Museums, especially those located in the New England area.
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