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Choctaw Cultural Center, French Museum Partner on Exhibit
Published September 17, 2021
Even before the new Choctaw Cultural Center opened in July it was having an impact on an international exhibition. The venture speaks to the level of professional respect already achieved by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) facility, its programming, and staff.
“La Curiosité d’un Prince” or “An Inquisitive Prince – The Fate of the Ethnographic Cabinet of the Count of Artois” is scheduled for Sept.18 – Dec.11 in the Versailles Public Library in Versailles, France. It can also be viewed locally online Oct. 1. The exhibition is part of research initiated by the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac on the French royal collections of North America preserved at the museum.
The selected works include artifacts from around the world that were kept at the Versailles Municipal Library following the French Revolution in 1789. The collections were formed during a time when the French increasingly interacted, traded, and created political alliances with Choctaws and other indigenous peoples. Choctaws were strongly allied with the French in the first half of the 18th century until the Louisiana Territory was transferred to Spain in 1762.
In a video about the exhibit, Choctaw Nation Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Ian Thompson, Ph.D. states about the objects in the collection, “A lot of them don’t have direct provenance information. We don’t know right where they came from or necessarily if some of them were created by Choctaw people. However, the Choctaw journey is not something that happened in isolation. There were trading networks that connected the American Gulf Coast with central Canada for example. Some of the items that were involved in that trade are in the exhibit.”
Exceptional North American pieces include a pair of bear paw moccasins, a man’s beaded trade cloth legging, a finger woven bison hair-and-bead sash, shell and trade bead jewelry, a gar fish skin quiver, rivercane darts, and painted hides. Among these rare pieces is a quill work-and-feather headdress whose origins are unknown, but that visually matches one worn by a Choctaw chief in a 1730’s French painting. These items are exhibited alongside film and images of Choctaw artists.
The partnership between Choctaw Nation and the Musée du quai Branly began to take shape in 2016 when Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation Research Associate Jennifer Byram contacted the Musée du quai Branly to inquire about possible Choctaw items in its museum collections. This outreach was part of creating the Chahta Imponna Database which preserves ancestral Choctaw knowledge by providing tribal community members access to Choctaw items in U.S. and international museum collections. During that time, a collaborative exhibit was proposed. Those early conversations created a dialogue that paved the way for this collaboration. Participants feel it is reminiscent of the historic relationship between the Choctaws and the French.
Paz Núñez-Regueiro, head curator of the Americas Collections at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, said, “Throughout the exhibit, this collaboration was a wonderful experience and very enriching, a rediscovery of the objects and the role that collections and museums can have. In spite of the remote working conditions imposed by COVID-19, we were able to find a more effective way of collaborating by remaining in dialogue at a distance which gave me the tools to develop future collaborations based on this model. This has without a doubt been one of the most beautiful collaborations of my professional life and I feel that I still have much more to learn from the Choctaw Cultural Center team. It is a very moving feeling to weave the relationship together again following the historic relationship that united Choctaw and French peoples in the 17th and 18th centuries.”
In addition to Byram, a co-curator of the exhibit is Director of Curation of the Choctaw Cultural Center Cady Shaw. Along with Thompson, other members of the Choctaw Nation project team include Executive Director of CNO Cultural Services Sue Folsom, Senior Director of the Choctaw Cultural Center Stacey Halfmoon, and from Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation, Program Manager Misty Madbull, Research Associate Megan Baker and Archaeological Technician Ryan Spring.
The exhibit team in France includes co-curators from the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Núñez-Regueiro and Visiting Scholar Nikolaus Stolle; and from the Versailles Public Library, Director Vincent Haegele and Curator Hortense Longequeue.
Along with the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac and Versailles Public Library, the Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation Department and Choctaw Cultural Center will host a virtual presentation of the exhibition “La Curiosité d’un Prince” or “An Inquisitive Prince” beginning at 10 a.m. Oct. 1
A film made by Mark Williams and the Historic Preservation department for the French exhibit An Inquisitive Prince, sharing the Choctaw perspective on Choctaw-French history and museum collections. The exhibit is a collaboration between the Choctaw Nation, the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac and the Versailles Public Library.
Virtual Exhibit Opening