Dr. Thomas and Mercedes Whitecloud

Pipe Bowl with Human Head and BeaverPipe Bowl with Human Head and BeaverOjibwe (United States or Canada), c. 1820-25
Catlinite
Promised Gift of Mercedes Whitecloud
Courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art and Mercedes Whitecloud
Pipe Bowl with Human Head and Beaver
Birchbark Moose CallerBirchbark Moose CallerOjibwe (United States or Canada), c. 1900s
Birchbark, natural fibers
Promised Gift of Mercedes Whitecloud
Courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art and Mercedes Whitecloud
Birchbark Moose Caller

Another example of a Native art collector is Dr. Thomas Whitecloud, from the Lac du Flambeau tribe of the Chippewa of Wisconsin. He and his wife Mercedes built a collection of almost 600 pieces of Native American art with historical and contemporary pieces from many different communities across North America, including the Great Lakes, Northern Woodlands, and the Southwest. They were particularly interested in pieces that were made by members of the Midewiwin society, a sacred medicine group of the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Chippewa) who have communities centered around the Great Lakes. For the Whiteclouds, these pieces from the Midewiwin held a special personal significance and served as mementos of his heritage; his great-grandmother was an Anishinaabe healer and midwife.

Dr. Whitecloud describes how his fascination began: “I began collecting objects from Native Americans in the Southwest, back when I traveled with my parents in the 1950s. We would buy jewelry and pottery. I became more drawn to bead work and quill work, what we call ‘woodlands and plains-type objects,’ in the mid-1980s, and was fortunate enough to start doing some serious collecting about that time.”

There are many different communities and media represented in the collection, which includes jewelry, basketry, beadwork, clothing, and pottery. The Whiteclouds have promised their collection to the New Orleans Museum of Art in Louisiana. It remains an important example of Native American art for its breadth and diversity, in addition to being one of few personal collections created by Native Americans. Today there are many Native individuals curating Native American art within large institutions such as the National Museum of the American Indian as well as smaller community-run centers.