Arkansas Made gallery debuts tomorrow | Rock Candy

Arkansas Made gallery debuts tomorrow

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1828 sampler by Ku-To-Yi
  • 1828 sampler by Ku-To-Yi

A sampler stitched in 1828 by a young Cherokee girl at Dwight Mission, a Presbyterian school on the banks of the Arkansas in the early 1800s, will be just one of the fine objects on exhibit tomorrow as the Historic Arkansas Museum opens its new Arkansas Made Gallery. There will be a reception as part of 2nd Friday Art Night, 5-8 p.m., with music by Parkstone.

The objects are both old and new: A painting by contemporary artist Sylvester McKissick hangs next to an early 20th century oil by Adrian Brewer (1891-1956), and Native American pots are juxtaposed with a basket by Arkansas Living Treasure Leon Niehaus.

I got a peek today at the sampler, stitched in silk on linen in 1828 by Nancy Graves. Deputy Director and Chief Curator Swannee Bennett provided the following information on the sampler:

This rare example of Arkansas Made needlework is the earliest documented Native American-made sampler known to exist anywhere in the United States. Nancy Grave’s Cherokee name was Ku-To-Yi, and she was 11 years old when she made this sampler. She was one of dozens of young Cherokee girls who attended the Presbyterian school known as Dwight Mission, located on the banks of the Arkansas River near present-day Russellville. There they learned the three “R’s” and the various aspects of domestic economy, which included needlework, and the making of samplers. Most samplers are constructed with three major components — the alphabet, numbers and verse. As a result, the student was taught to sew, spell, read and count.

The school was established in 1820 by the Reverend Cephas Washburn. One of its stated purposes was to serve as a school to educate and Christianize the Cherokee moving west with their families from their homes in Tennessee and Georgia. Ultimately, the “Americanization” of Native Americans in this country resulted in the wholesale loss of language and culture for tens of thousands of American Indians.

Alice Walton has nothing on Bennett. Walton famously bid on a painting at auction at Sotheby's while on horseback during a competition. Bennett bid on the sampler in January from a duck blind, ducks quacking in the background all the time, a fact Sotheby's revealed to the auction audience after HAM secured the bid.

Bennett and Director Bill Worthen have authored a couple of books, "Arkansas Made," vols. 1 and 2, about objects the HAM staff has identified over many years as being Arkansan in origin and which reveal what life was like in 19th century Arkansas. They prove Arkansas was not, as Louise Loughborough is quoted as saying on one wall of the exhibit, not just a place with fiddles and leaky roofs.

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