November 05, 2009

Stereotypical Massasoit statue returns

Statue of Indian leader returning to Capitol

By Marc HaddockMassasoit returns to the state Capitol grounds this week.

Cyrus Dallin's sometimes controversial statue of the Wampanoag Indian leader who is credited with saving the Pilgrims during their early days at Plymouth, Mass., will be reinstalled at an official ceremony Thursday at 11 a.m.

And while some have complained that it's inappropriate to have a statue honoring a Massachusetts Indian leader on display in front of Utah's Capitol when the state has plenty of homegrown American Indians who deserve recognition, Judith McConkie, Utah's Capitol curator, said the work by one of Utah's most famous artists deserves its honored place because of the historic nature of the statue as well as the individual it portrays.
And:His sculptures of American Indians are among his best known work, and a 9-foot 3-inch statue of Massasoit was placed in Plymouth in 1921 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of a peace treaty the pilgrims negotiated with the "Great Sachem of the Wampanoags."

The following year, Dallin presented the original plaster cast to his home state, where it was placed indoors because, as Horne wrote, "One month's rigor of winter weather would crumble it back into clay, but sheltered under the great dome of the capitol it will last indefinitely."

The artist felt that the statue of a Massachusetts Indian represented Utah Native Americans, as well.

"In setting up this man of peace, who saved the Plymouth Colony, I have a hope … that I might model the old Chief Washakie, of the Shoshones, who, too, was a man of peace; and he wielded as potent and saving an influence over the first Pioneers, 'a thousand miles from nowhere,' as ever did Massasoit over the Pilgrims," Horne quotes Dallin as saying.
Comment:  I've covered this story before, but let's reiterate the key points:

  • Dallin gave Utah the original plaster cast, not a bronze statue. Someone in Utah decided they needed their own Massasoit statue, so they used the cast to create one.

    In other words, the Utahns weren't preserving a great work of art despite it stereotypical nature. They created a duplicate statue because they were proud of its stereotypical nature.

  • If the statue is so great and wonderful, the Utahns can honor it by putting it in a museum with a plaque explaining the controversy and the stereotypes. Putting it on display on Utah's capital grounds is essentially thumbing their noses at the critics. "Our pride in Dallin's stupid stereotypes is more important than your desire for cultural accuracy. We'd rather honor a white man's fantasy about Natives than Utah's actual Natives."

  • According to Dallin, Chief Washakie of the Shoshones was similar to Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoags. In other words, all Indians are basically the same and it doesn't matter which one we honor.

    Really? Two hundred years and two thousand miles apart and one can substitute for the other? That's like saying Chief Washakie fought for peace and Q'orianka Kilcher fought for peace, so let's raise a statue of Kilcher to symbolize Utah's Indians.

    This is bad enough, but the curator seems to have bought this "argument." Hello? Is anyone in Utah thinking critically about this issue? Or are you all trying to find rationalizations to justify this stereotypical depiction of Indians?

    For more on the subject, see:

    Rob vs. Curator on Massasoit Statue
    Defending Cyrus Dallin
    Massasoit the Noble Savage
    Massasoit Statue in Utah

    Below:  Massasoit the half-naked stand-in for Washakie and a statue of Washakie.

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