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Bancroft honored for "Images of Native Americans" online exhibit

- "Images of Native Americans," an electronic collection that includes images and text from Bancroft Library materials covering 400 years of Native American history, has won a special commendation from the American Library Association (ALA).

The ALA announced the award at its annual meeting earlier this month in Toronto, noting that the digital exhibit includes enhancements not possible in a traditional, three-dimensional exhibit.

Ma Ko Me Ta
Ma Ko Me Ta, or Bear's Oil, a Monomonie chief, from "The Aboriginal Port Folio" by James Otto Lewis. (Courtesy Bancroft Library)

View the Bancroft exhibit online

It also praised the site’s navigation features, as well as its chronicling of the evaluation, purchase and behind-the-scenes conservation of James Otto Lewis’ "Aboriginal Port Folio," the University of California Library’s 9-millionth volume and a jewel in the Bancroft’s Native American collection.

The association reviewed 29 digital exhibits nominated for the award captured by the Bancroft.

Bill Brown, Bancroft associate director for public services, culled photographs, lantern slides, illustrations, portraits and other images from rare books, newspapers, pulp magazines, advertisements and other material. He worked with Brooke Dockter of the Library’s digital publishing group to produce an easy-to-use digital site that would educate, entertain and contribute to a better understanding of the historical perceptions of Native Americans.

One online collection highlight is a section devoted to Lewis' "Aboriginal Port Folio," the first color plate book in the nation with images of Native Americans.

On a tour of Native American treaty councils in the upper Midwest in the early 1800s, Lewis sketched the chiefs he saw. Later, he hand-colored their portraits and published these striking images.

While the portraits alone are interesting and informative, the Bancroft website supplements them with images and text from "History of the Indian Tribes of North America, with Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs," by Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall.

The Bancroft’s site also gives an insider’s perspective with an essay by Anthony Bliss, the Bancroft’s curator of rare books and manuscripts, who writes about the search for new materials, acquisition of the Lewis book, and his own initial reaction.

While Lewis’ portrayal of the figures seemed crude, Bliss wrote, they are not overworked or romanticized, and "project a sense of immediacy that is almost unnerving."

Site visitors also are treated to drawings by Infantry Captain Seth Eastman, who was assigned to the Dakota region near modern-day Minneapolis in the mid-1800s. A gifted artist, he teamed up with wife, Mary Henderson Eastman, who developed a close relationship with the Dakota Indians. Together, they produced some of the most important records of Native American life, information now belonging to the Bancroft and available to scholars and others.