I joined the Metropolitan Postcard Club over a decade ago to collect images of Native American art, architecture and traditional dress and adornment, with a particular interest in the art and craft of the silversmith.
As a teenager, I collected Navajo turquoise and silver jewelry and stone carvings. Over the years my collecting areas and objects increased as I discovered the wide diversity of technical skills and creative innovation of Native art both in my travels and as a volunteer at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, George Gustave Heye Center.
In my career as a photo editor, researcher and photographer, I was responsible for obtaining and organizing illustrations for textbooks and trade books and I was familiar with the importance of choosing the best quality and visually informative image to supplement the text and enhance the reader’s understanding and appreciation. But when a jewelry dealer first offered me early picture postcards of Southwest silversmiths I wasn’t interested, preferring the actual object rather than the images. It wasn’t until I discovered reproductions of the very postcards that I had rejected in Native art and jewelry books that I realized the historic relevance of the postcards.
As my exposure and interest in Native dance increased, I attended a series of winter Pueblo dances in Santa Fe and discovered the prohibition of photography by non-tribal members. Then I really began to appreciate the historical and visual importance of how picture postcards helped me to understand and connect to the art and culture of Native people. Collecting became not just a hobby but also a passion as I enjoyed choosing, organizing and creating my own visual narrative with the small, hand-held, intimate picture postcard.
My interest in Alaskan (Eskimo and Indian) and Northwest Coast people, art and culture became my primary collecting focus following visits to museum exhibitions, gallery shows and trips to the Northwest Coast and Alaska where I purchased my first Eskimo postcard.
Early Alaska Postcards
Early Alaska tourism was clearly popular despite the challenging climate and landscape, and even with the smaller number of diversified cultural groups and less available postcards, I am still able to find postcards of my collecting topics: traditional dance, art and culture, making and wearing handmade clothing and art, personal adornment, portraits of individuals, groups and families, hunting, fishing, transportation, and religion/spirituality.
I continue to be fascinated by the early Alaska postcards, including real photo postcards, and I enjoy comparing and contrasting the visual depictions of the different Native people and cultures and how they adjust to change. As a volunteer at the American Museum of Natural History working with historic Native American 35mm slides, including collections of Eskimo and Northwest Coast people and culture images, my appreciation, fascination and learning continues to evolve.
While some dealers and friends find my focus of collecting Eskimo/Alaska too limited and encourage me to change to a more available subject, at the next club meeting you will find me once again looking for these cards to add to my collection.
This story first appeared in the METRO NEWS, the bulletin of The Metropolitan Postcard Club, the oldest continuously run postcard club in the U.S. For more information visit: www.metropolitanpostcardclub.com.
FOR MORE ON POSTCARDS, CHECK OUT: