February 05, 2013

Parrington artifacts: A collector's story


Vernon L. Parrington in his office at the University of
Oklahoma, ca. 1905. Photograph courtesy of Sarah Parrington.
Objects in museums hold many stories—often of their makers and users, and also, sometimes, of their collectors.

That's the case with several beautiful Native American artifacts recently donated to the Burke Museum from the family of Vernon Louis Parrington, a longtime English professor at the University of Washington (UW) in the early 1900s.

Parrington was born in Illinois in 1871. He graduated from Harvard College in 1893 and taught English for four years at Emporia College in Kansas before moving on to teach at the University of Oklahoma.


It was in Oklahoma that his interest in Native art likely blossomed. His office (see the photograph above) was adorned with a growing collection of Native American artifacts including this horse drape, war club and panel belt.

Horse Drape
Buckskin, cotton and wool cloth, sinew, glass beads
Unknown maker, Lakota, Oglala, late 19th century
Burke Cat. No. 2010-31/5

War Club
Stone, wood rawhide, horsehair, sinew, yarn, glass beads
Unknown maker, Plains, late 19th century
Burke Cat. No. 2010-31/4

Panel Belt
Leather, sinew, glass beads
Unknown maker, Plains, late 19th century
Burke Cat. No. 2010-31/6
In 1909, Parrington made the long journey from Oklahoma to Washington state, where he became a member of the UW faculty and went on to establish the "American Studies" movement in the 1920s, then won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928 for his three-volume history of American letters from colonial times, Main Currents in American Thought. UW's Parrington Hall is named in his honor.

In addition to donating the horse drape, war club and panel belt to the Burke Museum's Ethnology collections, the Parrington family also generously donated funds to support the professional conservation of these objects.

When we add objects to our collection, we promise to take care of them forever. We're honored the Parrington family chose the Burke to care for their family heirlooms. As part of our collection, these objects will be available for people to study, and will help us answer future questions that haven't even been asked.

You can see the objects on display at the Burke Museum beginning on Wednesday, February 13, 2013.

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