Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Kopp Collection: Part I

By: Eva Fognell, Curator of American Indian Art
The first project I worked on when I started here at the Fenimore Art Museum was cataloging a collection of about 1000 recently-acquired objects, mostly ephemeral material, that illustrated the use of American Indian images on advertising products (often with absolutely nothing to do with Native peoples). One of the most famous images that many of you may be familiar with is the Pontiac car dealership sign.

Advertising is a very powerful media. We are constantly bombarded by images that shape the way we feel and think about things, as well as the way we think about other people. Early advertising was often more informative than promotional. For example in the 18th century a flyer might say: “Have just received a large shipment of hats and buttons - come quick and get the best selection.” It was with mass production and the development of national markets - the idea that you could transport oranges from California to New York on the railroads for example - that advertising began to look more like what we know today.
In 1877, a pioneer citrus grower sent an entire load of fruit to St. Louis. You can imagine the stir at the train station and at the market that day, from the smell of the oranges to the word “California” which implied a Promised Land in the west. As more and more western produce growers shipped their products to markets in the east they had to find a way to make THEIR product stand out when stacked in big warehouses full of crates piled 10 feet high. So they needed labels that were eye-catching, arresting, memorable and that fought for attention. Stereotypes of Indian maidens and warbonnet-festooned warriors became common conventions on labels in the years prior to WWII. And in the 1880s, San Francisco became a center for lithography.

Advertising very often stereotypes people so it is important to look at the advertising material with a critical eye and think about the often false impression we get of people and places from advertising. In the next few posts I will show you some other things that were sold and advertised using images of Native American people.

Beacon Trading Company. Chief Seattle Apples, n.d. Gift of Joel and Kate Kopp, Fenimore Art Museum, N0007.2001(023)
H.S. Denison & Co. Redman Brand Apples, n.d. Gift of Joel and Kate Kopp, Fenimore Art Museum, N0007.2001(001)
Bradford Bros., Inc. Pala Brave Valencias, n.d. Gift of Joel and Kate Kopp, Fenimore Art Museum, N0007.2001(003)
Pontiac Service Sign n.d. Gift of Joel and Kate Kopp, Fenimore Art Museum N0007.2001(606)

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