NMAI and George Gustav Heye

Heye (1874–1957) was a New York City businessman who was passionate about Native American culture, collecting over 800,000 items in his lifetime. With an unrelenting fervor for Native American objects, he hired individuals to accrue objects from over 1,200 communities from Native North America. In 1916, He founded the Museum of the American Indian in New York City.

Heye believed in salvaging all aspects of a culture. American anthropologist Ira Jacknis has called this practice a “vacuum cleaner approach” to collecting, as Heye gathered older material from excavation sites as well as cultural material that was still in use. Heye bought multiple collections and also exchanged with other museums, such as the Field Museum and the Smithsonian. He also began a systematic card catalog of his collection that documented information about the objects, including place of origin, tribe, and description. The collection today is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. The collection is housed in Suitland, Maryland at the Cultural Resources Center, while the exhibiting locations are in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

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