In August of 2014, the St. Joseph Museums embarked on an ambitious project to rediscover the stories of Harry L. George. Tucked away in the archives were two large ledger books full of hundreds of pages revealing insight into the life of an avid Native American artifact collector. These volumes had never been thoroughly researched and they soon revealed themselves to be a premier source for understanding early 20th century collecting practices. It was discovered that Harry George corresponded with well-known dealers and collectors of the time including Herman Schweizer (Fred Harvey Company), Grace Nicholson, George Heye, and many others. Even more exciting, however, are the lesser-known dealers and collectors who were active at this time, providing new avenues of research. The ledgers are rich with details about both famous and infamous characters at a critical period in the Native American artifact trade.
Although the 4,000+ artifacts that Harry George collected have been displayed, researched, and loaned, the ledgers have been overlooked. To make them more accessible, and responding to several preservation concerns, a large digitization project began in January 2015. With the support of the museum, the St. Joseph community, and dedicated volunteers, this project allows researchers from near and far to delve into Harry George's collecting world more easily and safely.
About 95 percent of the items in the ledgers are glued into the book's pages, which meant that standard scanning was not an option. In order to accommodate the complexity of the ledgers, a small photo studio was set up and each item was photographed. From there, each image was carefully edited to provide a more usable and readable appearance online.
Along with the goal of creating an accessible way to research the ledgers, this project seeks to provide a means for lost connections to be found between objects and their origins. Uncovering this material will not only provide a glimpse into Harry George's process of collecting, but also how relationships are formed between collectors and dealers, allowing this information to be used for and informing continued research of Native American artifact collecting.
What can we learn about collecting practices of Native materials in the early 20th century from this correspondence?
Who is Harry George and what was his intention with the collection?
How does one amass an extensive collection from every Native American cultural area in the United States from St. Joseph, Missouri?
Why have these ledgers remained virtually unknown?
Explore the pages and dive into the world of collecting! Learn about the Native American art market firsthand and what it takes to assemble a large private collection from a mid-size Midwestern city. See original letters from famous dealers, descriptions of hundreds of artifacts, and how Harry George built relationships with individuals all over the country.