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October 23, 2015

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: Stockbridge–Munsee Arts and Crafts Enterprise

In the 1960s, the Stockbridge–Munsee Community of Wisconsin worked with instructors at the University of Wisconsin Art Education Extension to develop an arts and crafts enterprise featuring art made by tribal members. The Indian Arts and Crafts Board purchased 17 pieces from the enterprise for its Headquarters Collection.

The Stockbridge–Munsee Arts and Crafts Enterprise began in 1963 through a proposal from the Indian Affairs Subcommittee of the Governor’s Commission on Human Rights and was realized through a grant and a loan from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.[1] Centered on “the creation of fine crafts forms,” the program trained members of the Stockbridge–Munsee community in weaving, printmaking, jewelry making, and woodcarving. Instructors from the University of Wisconsin Art Education Extension trained the participants and assisted with the execution of the designs and development of promotional brochures.[2] Targeting tourist and gift markets, the enterprise emphasized the incorporation of local materials and tribal designs and produced silver jewelry, woven ties and belts, wooden bowls, and printed wall hangings and tote bags.

258620 Stockbridge-Munsee tote bag
Stockbridge–Munsee tote bag, 1964. Bowler, Stockbridge–Munsee Reservation, Shawano County, Wisconsin. Block print ink on canvas, twine, commercially tanned leather, metal grommets; 44.2 x 29.3 x 1.5 cm. Purchased in 1964 by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives from Wisconsin Indian Craft. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/8620

Although the Stockbridge–Munsee Community is now located in Wisconsin, its history begins on the East Coast of the United States with the Mohicans of New England and the Lenni Lenape of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. In 1734, missionary John Sergeant preached to Mohicans living in the village of Wnahtukuk and Christianized them. Sergeant encouraged the Mohicans to start a mission in western Massachusetts. The mission was called Stockbridge, and the Mohicans who moved there became known as the Stockbridge Indians. Increasing encroachment by white settlers forced the Stockbridge Indian community to move to central New York in the 1780s. In 1817 and 1818, as land companies encouraged the state of New York to remove its Indian tribes, Stockbridge families moved to Indiana to live among the Miami and the Lenni Lenape. Upon their arrival, the Stockbridge community discovered that the land in Indiana had been sold to white settlers.

In 1822—joined by the Munsee, a group of Lenni Lenape—the Stockbridge settled in the Fox Valley of Wisconsin. That year the state of New York and the U.S. War Department negotiated with the Menominee and Ho-Chunk of Wisconsin to establish land tracts for the Stockbridge–Munsee and two other East Coast tribes who had been pushed west—the Oneida and the Brothertown Indians. By 1831, 225 Stockbridge lived in Wisconsin along with 100 Munsee. In 1839, following the implementation of the Indian Removal Act by President Andrew Jackson, some Stockbridge–Munsee, who feared another relocation, moved to Indian Territory. Some of those families stayed in Kansas and Oklahoma; others returned to Wisconsin in 1848. For a more detailed history of that period, see the Stockbridge–Munsee Community website

257479 Stockbridge–Munsee Many Trails pendant

257478 Stockbridge–Munsee mayflower pendant
Upper: Stockbridge–Munsee necklace with Many Trails pendant, 1963–64. Silver, commercial leather thong; 32 x 3 x 0.7 cm. NMAI 25/7479 
Lower: Stockbridge–Munsee necklace with mayflower pendant, 1963–64. Silver, glass, commercial leather thong; 36.5 x 6.7 x 1 cm. NMAI 25/7478 
Both: Bowler, Stockbridge–Munsee Reservation, Shawano County, Wisconsin. Purchased in 1964 by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives from the Tipi Shop, Sioux Indian Museum and Crafts Center, Rapid City, South Dakota. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. 

The Many Trails design seen on this silver pendant symbolizes the diasporic history of the Stockbridge–Munsee. Created by Elder Edwin Martin, the design uses numerous lines to represent the many trails taken by the Stockbridge–Munsee from the East Coast to Wisconsin. Martin reflected that the design symbolizes the “endurance, strength, and hope” of the Stockbridge–Munsee.[3]

Interestingly, the Many Trails pendant in the IACB Headquarters Collection uses an early version of the design motif. The current Many Trails design includes concentric circles representing campfires.

In July 2002, I interviewed Buck Martin (Stockbridge–Munsee), Edwin Martin's son, about the objects from the Stockbridge–Munsee Arts and Crafts Enterprise. The flower pendant with three silver petals set with a nugget of red glass depicts a mayflower. Buck Martin explained, “Mayflowers cover our reservation. That’s what we call them. . . . It’s the first flower that comes up in the spring . . . when you see them, you know that Mother Nature is waking up.”[4] The mayflower is also known as the trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens), a fragrant white or pink flower found in the eastern United States and Canada.

The other jewelry pieces feature examples of local fauna such as turtles, frogs, and fish made into silver pins, earrings, cufflinks, and tie bars. Upon seeing the colle­­ction, Buck Martin remarked that “nature impacted the development of the designs.”[5] The turtle pin is for the turtle clan, and the frog pin speaks to “the spring [when] you can hear frogs all around.”[6]

The enterprise attached labels of certification to its work saying “Hand Crafted by Indians of Wisconsin, Stockbridge Munsee Tribe, Bowler, Wisconsin.” Its products were sold to shops in the Milwaukee area and at Wisconsin tourist shops; the Tipi Shop, Inc., an arts and crafts shop within the Sioux Indian Museum in Rapid City, South Dakota, carried its products as well. The Stockbridge–Munsee Arts and Crafts Enterprise operated until 1970. 

—Anya Montiel

Anya Montiel (Tohono O'odham/Mexican) is a PhD candidate at Yale University and a curatorial research fellow at the National Museum of the American Indian. This post is part of a series Anya is writing on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Headquarters Collection at the museum.


[1] “Exhibit of Indians’ Crafts Now Being Shown at U.W.,” The Capital Times (Madison WI), 18 December 1964: 5.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Catherine Coleman Brawer (ed.), Many Trails: Indians of the Lower Hudson Valley (Katonah NY: The Katonah Gallery, 1983), 9.

[4] Buck Martin, phone interview by Anya Montiel, 9 July 2002.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

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