Home > History of the Collection

History of the Collection

Harry George began collecting Native American artifacts in 1904, following a purchase of a small basket on a trip out West. Over the course of 18 years, George collected more than 4,000 objects, 200 books, hundreds of pages of correspondence, and numerous photographs. He amassed the collection mostly through dealers and reservation agents, but also occasionally through direct purchases on personal trips. With the initial objective of collecting "baskets from each one of these tribes," before long, George was informed that some tribes are not basketmakers. He told the St. Joseph Gazette in 1914 that "I have been forced to add pottery and beadwork to my collection."

George held the idea that many shared at the time, that "the original Indian types of industry and art were rapidly passing" (St. Joseph Gazette, 1914). Collecting became somewhat of a second job and George's correspondence shows that he devoted a great deal of effort contacting experts and consulting the literature as he thoroughly researched tribes and cultural practices. In keeping with his interest in salvaging "dying" ways of life, he sought out old, utility pieces, and attempted to stay away from the popular mass-produced souvenir goods.

Because St. Joseph had no museum at the time, Harry George kept and displayed his collection in his home, and periodically loaned objects to be displayed at the Central Public Library and Robidoux School. He worked for several years attempting to convince the city of St. Joseph to establish a museum, and strongly believed that his collection should be available to the public. However, it was not until after his death that Harry George's artifacts would be permanently accessible.

 

In February of 1924, shortly after Harry George's passing, the collection was sent, on loan, to the state museum in Jefferson City, Missouri. Frazer Ford, President of the First National Bank, and also Harry George's son-in-law, represented the estate on behalf of Harry George's wife and daughters. A contract was estabished between George's heirs, Maggie George, Marjorie George Ford, Harriet George Arnold, and the museum, for the collection to be loaned to Jefferson City in five year increments.

While in Jefferson City, the collection was inventoried and cataloged, and was provided its own specially-prepared storage room. Early museum records note that Harry George had a catalog system of his own and while the museum tried to uphold the same system, many of the numbered labels had fallen off during the transfer. Objects with existing numbers remained the same, other items were given new numbers, and a new catalog was completed in 1927. It is also thought that the documents in the ledger books, highlighted in this project, were organized (and glued in place) while in Jefferson City: each item's number (with the volume, page number, and an alphabetical letter) is in the same handwriting that appears on other Jefferson City museum documents. The items are also arranged and contained in the ledgers in such a way that it seems consistent of early museum practice.

In March of 1944, the new museum board of the State Museum voted not to renew the loan agreement for the Harry George collection. Their reasons for this included the lack of Missouri-specific items in the collection and an increasing interest to display military flags at the museum.The collection was packed and transferred back to St. Joseph in late October and because of space issues, was unloaded and stored at City Hall.

 

 

 

Immediately upon return to St. Joseph, parts of the Harry George collection were put on display at the St. Joseph Museum. The museum at that time was located at the A.J. August Mansion on 19th and Felix. The collection was still owned by the Harry George Estate and in December of 1946, the Goetz Brewing Company formally purchased the collection for the museum and city of St. Joseph for $10,000.

 

 1940s Display
A.J. August Mansion 

 


Wyeth-Tootle Mansion Displays

 

 

The St. Joseph Museum moved to the Wyeth-Tootle Mansion on October 8, 1948, and resided there until 2004 when the museum expanded to its current site on Frederick Avenue. The Harry George Collection has remained a staple in the museum since its return to St. Joseph in 1944, and has been consistently exhibited in every location and publicly available as Harry George had desired.