Yesterday was a museum day for us in Klamath Falls, as we visited the Favell Museum of Native American Artifacts and Contemporary Western Art. Although the artwork itself was beautiful (especially the miniatures collection), I found myself conflicted in a number of different ways.
As I walked around all this artwork of “Cowboys and Indians” — what we now euphemistically call “western art” — I kept thinking about what a historical fiction it was. It was a White Man’s view of the West. It was the movie portrayal of the White Cowboy as the hero, and the Native American as the savage. While I could appreciate the art as fiction, the underlying racism of the times and the messages conveyed by those images bothered me. Was the reality as savage as what was portrayed? I think my increasing awareness of racism and privilege is forever changing how I view the history of the American west. Woke, indeed.
I had a similar view as I viewed the Native American collection. While the baskets and the arrowheads were beautiful, I wondered what it said about a white man collecting those artifacts. Where was the meaning and the significance? Where was the context?
This brought me to the larger issue of the collection itself. This museum was the product of a family collecting a bunch of stuff that they liked, and eventually organizing it into a museum. How much of what we were seeing was scholarship, and much of it was a collection on display with no scholarship? How many of the increasing collections of my generations will be organized into museums, as displays of the pretty artifacts that our parents collected.
Sometimes, being aware can really ruin museums.