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ABOUT THIS COLLECTION
The work of Frank Rinehart, while not as well known as that of Edward Curtis, is widely recognized as some of the most important pieces of Native American portraiture of the late 19th and early 20th century. These photographs, Rinehart and Muhr's 1900 work at Crow Agency , Montana, in particular, is of great value to researchers, historians, and tribal people alike due to their candid nature and their representation of Native Americans of the time as diverse people encompassing hundreds of unique cultures spanning the continent.
Of particular importance in the Rinehart images is the clothing and items with which these individuals were photographed. Many photographers in working with Native Americans during this period would often curate the regalia their subjects wore and were photographed with in order to achieve an image that suited their goal of documenting what was then believed to be a "backward" or "dying race." The individuals in Rinehart's photographs were depicted as they were, in their own regalia, and while some of the settings were posed as studio photographs, the subjects themselves present a degree of authenticity that is not common in the work of other photographers of the time.
This collection of rare photographic images includes images produced at the 1898 Indian Congress and Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, the 1899 Greater American Exposition, studio portraits from 1900, and photographs by Rinehart and Muhr taken at the Crow Agency in Montana also in 1900. Haskell owns 790 of the glass plate negatives that were the result of this documentation.
While there are other collections of these plates in existence, the Frank A. Rinehart Collection at the Haskell Cultural Center and Museum is the largest, and most complete.
Specializing in commercial portraits, Rinehart opened a studio in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1886. Commissioned by the government, in 1898 he became the official photographer of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in Omaha. Many mid-nineteenth-century expositions exhibited American Indians as curiosities of the past, but this one had advanced under the national policy of assimilation. However, much of this intention was lost when the emphasis shifted from education to a Wild West style of entertainment.
Working with his assistant, Adolf Muhr, Rinehart set up a studio and gallery at the exposition. Because Rinehart was occupied with recording other exposition events, it is likely that Muhr made most of the nearly five hundred portraits of the Indians attending the Congress. The portraits are staged depictions in which some of the Indians are posed in ceremonial dress in front of the incongruous studio backdrops of painted architectural settings. Others, like the image of Buried Far Away, suggest the harsher reality of the romanticized Native American.
(Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, www.americanart.si.edu)
THE 1898 INDIAN CONGRESS
The Indian Congress was held from August 4 to October 31, 1898, in Omaha, Nebraska, in tandem with the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition. Taking place less than a decade after the end of the Indian Wars, the Indian Congress was the largest such gathering of Native American tribes to that date, bringing together over 500 Native Americans representing 35 different tribal nations. The Indian Congress was managed by Captain W. A. Mercer of the 8th U. S. Infantry, under the direction of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs acting on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior.
It is worth noting that the Native Americans that attended this exposition came under the impression that they would be given the opportunity to meet with the President of the United States. This, sadly, turned out to be incorrect and these attendees found themselves the subjects of public spectacle without their consent.
The Frank A. Rinehart Collection consists of photographs that the official photographer of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, Frank A. Rinehart, and his assistant, Adolph Muhr, made of individual tribal members, their temporary lodgings, and the various scheduled events of the Congress. It was James Mooney, a Bureau of Ethnology ethnographer, who designed what was essentially a living exhibition of Native Americans, and it was he who contracted with Frank Rinehart to photograph the Indian delegates during the last week of the Congress.
(Courtesy of the Omaha Public Library. www.omahalibrary.org)