Collection Highlights: 50 Objects, 50 Years

In honor of the McClung Museum’s 50th anniversary in 2013, the museum is highlighting fifty treasures from its collections. Spanning a broad range of subjects, from decorative arts to the natural history of Tennessee, these objects emphasize the rich diversity of the museum’s collections.



Confederate Drum

The drum was found in Blaine, Tennessee, twenty miles east of Knoxville, in a former Confederate camp. Drummer boys on both sides could be as young as nine years old. Drums communicated group activities in camp as well as orders on the march and in battle. At the Battle of Fort Sanders, the youngest person killed was Charles Gardner, a 14-year-old drummer, from the 2nd Michigan.


Andrew Johnson Pardon

Frank H. McClung—a Knoxville merchant and descendant of James White, founder of Knoxville—wrote a formal request for a pardon from the president of the United States, Andrew Johnson, for being in rebellion against the US government during the Civil War. Because McClung had a net worth of over $20,000, he did not receive a pardon automatically, but his request was honored and the pardon duly issued, as were almost 100 percent of such cases. The last line of the pardon notes that McClung shall not “acquire any property whatsoever in slaves, or make use of slave labor.”



Presentation Sword and Scabbard

The Ames Manufacturing Co., Chicopee, Massachusetts, made the officer’s sword. Babcock very likely wore this sword at the formal surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. The Babcock family preserved the beautiful memento until its donation to the McClung Museum.

The inscription on the back of the guard reads:

“O. E. Babcock

 Corps of Engineers

from his brother C.W. Babcock

Feb. 1863”

On the etched blade appear the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” Latin for “out of many, one” the motto of the United States.



Shell Button Sample Board

This salesman’s sample board was used to illustrate types and sizes of quality buttons manufactured from freshwater mussel shells. Storeowners could then order and stock pearl buttons of various styles available from wholesale dealers.

At the button factory, shells were then sent to cutting machines where the disks or “blanks” were cut out, smoothed and soaked, and then shaped and patterned before the button “eyes” were drilled. The development and refinement of plastics following Word War II spelled the beginning of the end for this unique and profitable industry. Pearl buttons could not compete with low cost, high quality plastic buttons. In the mid 1960s, the last pearl button factory closed, ending a multi-million dollar industry that flourished in the Midwest and Midsouth for almost seventy-five years.




The Pyramid Pigtoe (Pleurobema rubrum) is named for the general shape of its outline. The inside of the shell has a white to rosy pink color. The species is widespread in the Mississippi Basin, from southwestern Wisconsin, south to Louisiana, and from the Ohio River headwater in western Pennsylvania, west to eastern Kansas. In the Tennessee River drainage, the Pyramid Pigtoe occurs from the headwater in southwestern Virginia, downstream to the mouth of the Tennessee River in Kentucky.

The Purple Wartyback (Cyclonaias tuberculata) is named for the numerous warts or pustules on the exterior of the shell and the dark to light purplish color of the interior of its shell. The Purple Wartyback is found in parts of the Great Lakes Basin, and in the Mississippi Basin from southern Minnesota, south to Arkansas, and from the headwater of the Ohio River drainage in western Pennsylvania, west to eastern Oklahoma. In Tennessee, it occurs in the main channels of both the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers in Middle and East Tennessee, and most of the major tributaries.

These are two of more than 50,000 freshwater mussel specimens found in the McClung Museum’s extensive collections.

Neanderthal skull


 Reconstruction of a Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (ca. 70,000 years ago)

Neanderthals, a now-extinct species closely related to modern-day humans, emerged between 300,000 and 100,000 years ago and inhabited Eurasia. Because they lived in an area with many limestone caves, which preserve bones well, they have been studied extensively, giving scientists an important view into human evolution.

This reconstruction of a Neanderthal skull is based primarily on the La Ferrassie 1 specimen with missing or incomplete elements filled in from original casts of six other Neandertal specimens. La Ferrassie rock shelter is located near the village of Les Eyzies in the Dordogne valley, France. Neanderthals were replaced by early modern humans between 35,000 and approximately 24,000 years ago.



Bust of a male Australopithecus afarensis

The equatorial regions of the earth receive more ultraviolet radiation than other regions, so its inhabitants, then as now, have dark skin that protects them. Since hominids first evolved in the tropics, all humans living today are descendants of dark-skinned ancestors.

To recreate the faces of human’s early ancestors, paleo-artist and sculptor John Gurche dissected the heads of modern humans and apes to uncover patterns of soft tissue and bone. He used this information to fill out the features of the fossils. The sculpture started with the cast of a fossilized skull upon which Gurche added layers of clay.


Shawabty of Horwejda

Shabti of Horwedja

Shabtis are small funerary figurines that ancient Egyptians believed were imbued with magical power that allowed them to substitute for the deceased in undertaking manual labor required of them in the afterlife. This shabti is from the 1890 excavations at Hawara by the eminent British Egyptologist Sir William S.F. Petrie. One of many, the figure comes from the tomb of a priest of Neith named Horwedja, whose mother was named Shedet, and dates ca. 664–525 BC.

By this time, shabtis stand on a square pedestal and show an upright plinth or panel down the back. Cast in molds, they are light bluish or pale apple green; some of this color remains on this example. Many are inscribed with horizontal registers of hieroglyphs.


COLLECTIONS_9_Ptah Sokar Osiris


The blending of three important funerary gods as one in this figure typifies the interfacing of Egyptian mythological concepts of creation, death, and the afterlife.

Ptah-Sokar-Osiris appears in mummy form, with protective beaded netting. The human face, gold in keeping with the gold flesh of the gods, echoes the human faces of Ptah, the creator god, and Osiris, the great god of the dead, while the falcon-headed Sokar is suggested in the collar terminals. Wavy ram’s horns reflect Osiris. A column of hieroglyphs was usually an offering formula to Osiris to ensure eternal life to the deceased.

The wooden figure, joined to a base, was placed close to the deceased’s coffin in the tomb. The hollowed-out statue could hold a papyrus inscribed with prayers. A ba-bird, a human-headed bird figure that represented the deceased’s ba, or soul, may once have been inserted in front of the feet.



Coffin of a Hawk

Coffins were made for mummified, sacred animals in wood, stone, and pottery in ancient Egypt. Falcon-headed coffins, however, did not always contain a bird. Inside was an imitation of the god Osiris in an Osiris-shaped mummy filled with grain, called a ‘corn mummy’; two small, roughly formed, mummy-shaped figures representing two of the Four Sons of Horus as protectors of the deceased; and a tiny, pillow-shaped, wooden headrest for the god.

The coffin and its contents represent a composite of the human-figured, falcon-headed, god Sokar and Osiris, a resurrected deity symbolized by way of lifeless grain turning into living green shoots. Osiris was at times assimilated with the god Sokar and took his falcon-headed form. In this way, the merged relationship of Sokar and Osiris was understood. The name Sokar-Osiris identified the double nature of the god. The falcon coffin is an example of the combined form of many gods in ancient Egyptian religious beliefs.



Mummy of an Ibis

In ancient Egypt, animals and insects associated with certain gods were believed to be divine creatures and played an essential role in life and religion. In one version of the Egyptian creation myth, the cosmic egg of life was laid by an ibis. The ibis was sacred all over Egypt. Such special animals were so venerated that anyone who killed one was put to death.

The ibis was closely linked with the god Thoth, divine scribe, guardian of the moon, god of total knowledge and wisdom. At his cult center in Hermopolis in Upper Egypt, the ibis was his visible, earthly embodiment. Privileged, it lived within the temple precincts, tended by priests. Upon death, they were mummified, placed in sealed jars and buried in special cemeteries. Thousands of ibis mummies dedicated to Thoth have been found at various sites including Giza, Abydos, Thebes, and Kom Ombo.



Pileated Woodpecker

Mark Catesby, often known as the “Colonial Audubon,” exhibited a keen interest in natural history growing up in Suffolk, England. An opportunity to visit his sister in Virginia in 1712 brought the young man into contact with the rich flora and fauna of the New World. Acquiring patronage and support in his native England, Catesby returned to America and spent years making notes and drawings on an enormous collection of plants and animals from the Southeast. When published, Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands included hundreds of plates illustrating birds, amphibians and reptiles, fishes, insects, and plants.



 Mallard Duck

Between 1827 and 1838, John James Audubon (1785–1851) published his famous elephant folio size Birds of America, which contained 435 plates of birds engraved life-size in aquatint and hand colored by Robert Havell.

By 1839, lithography had essentially replaced engraving, and Audubon saw this as an opportunity to produce a smaller version of his Birds of America. The result was the publication of the Royal Octavo Edition in which the Havell engravings and Audubon’s original watercolors were reduced by the method of camera lucida—a device using a prism that permitted a copyist to essentially trace the original in reduced size on drawing paper.



Six-plumed Bird of Paradise

John Gould (1804–1881) was one of the most important and productive ornithological illustrators of the nineteenth century, and the only one to rival John James Audubon in ambition and quality. Indeed, Gould was sometimes called “England’s Audubon,” and his career spanned five decades, producing over 3,300 color plates of birds and other animals.



Two Buddha sculpture

The work depicts two buddhas, Shakyamuni (the historic buddha) and Prabhutaratna (a buddha from the past), together. Prabhutaratna had made a vow to appear and listen to the Lotus Sutra when each new buddha delivered the sermon during his lifetime. He appeared in the sky within his stupa and Shakyamuni rose up in the air and sat beside him and continued to preach.

Each displays the symbolic gestures known as mudras, the right hand in the gesture of reassurance (abhaya mudra), and the left, the varada mudra, of giving and blessing. Mandorlas (pointed halos with carved flames) surround them.

At each corner of the base are guardian figures of a type known in Sanskrit as Vajrapani. Each stands with one foot on a small figure that represents evil, or the ignorance that holds people back from achieving enlightenment. Dragons with entwined necks appear in the center.



Prayer Rug

The floral and urn design is a popular Persian rug motif. The niche near the top represents the mihrab—an architectural feature in Islamic mosques that indicates the direction of Mecca. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was born in Mecca, and it is toward this holy city that Muslims turn five times daily in prayer. During prayer, the supplicant points the niche of the rug toward Mecca, kneels at the opposite end, places his or her hands at either side of the niche, and lowers the forehead to touch the niche.



Bactrian Camel

Various objects entombed with the wealthy and powerful represented useful things for the afterlife, or were symbols of status. Statuettes of camels depict a highly esteemed pack animal, one of profitable significance. In the days of the Silk Route—mainly a trading network of roads leading from China through Central Asia to the Mediterranean Sea and elsewhere—lively caravans of camels and other animals were important to transport goods to distant, exotic lands.

This statuette, produced by a low-fired earthenware process, was mold-shaped and finished by hand. The decorative glaze is referred to as Tang sancai, or “Tang three-color ware.” Three or more colored glazes were used, such as blue, copper-green, iron-brown to yellow, and a colorless glaze that created different shades of white. Some statuettes include trappings of a saddle blanket, panniers, monster masks, folded cloth, pack board, and a wine flask. The design encircling this statuette’s back suggests the edging of a saddle blanket.



Bark Painting

Bark paintings, as they came to be known to a Western audience, are Australian Aboriginal paintings done on flattened tree bark. Here, the artist used mineral pigments fixed with beeswax, honey, juice of orchid bulbs, or egg yolks on the bark canvas. Brushes were made of bark or twigs with bristles created by chewing or whittling. Groote Eylandt bark paintings are known for their distinctive deep black backgrounds. The painting depicts birds, fish, and a ray, and may represent a “dreaming”—a story that teaches how things happened or came to be.



Stream in Autumn Woods

This delicate miniature watercolor of a stream meandering through the woods is one of several of Lloyd Branson pieces found in the museum’s collections. Branson was born in Union County, Tennessee, and spent most of his life in the Knoxville area where he became known for his depictions of East Tennessee history.

In 1873, he moved to New York to study at the National Academy of Design where he won a first prize in 1875. That allowed him to travel in Europe, but in 1876 he returned to Knoxville and quickly became an important figure in the local art scene. Branson continued as a leader in the East Tennessee arts community until his death.




The human effigy jar features an egg-shaped body with tiny hands holding a stemmed cup and small projections representing feet. White and dark brown slip covers the body. It is topped by a human head with a white slip face and brown painted applied features, including large earspools and a hat with ridged decorations.



Buddhist Temple Bell

Bronze casting is an ancient and respected art in China, perfected during the Shang and Zhou dynasties (ca. 1600–256 BC) and known as works in “auspicious metal.” The handle represents one of the nine “offspring of the dragon,” whose shapes were used as decorative elements, each according to its nature. This one is pulao, the dragon that liked to cry.

The inscription on the bell reads:

“In the Fuyou (Blessing) Temple, Xincheng city; the head monk Xingqi and his disciple Liaozhi raised the funds to make this bell; the money was donated by Mrs. Tang, née Yu, a devoted Buddhist, to cast this bell respectfully, with the wish it will last for ten thousand generations, forever; completed on a lucky day, the second month of the twelfth year [1886] in the reign of Guangxu [1875–1908] of the Qing dynasty.” (Translation by Yen-Peng Hao, UT Department of History)




The pear shape of the vessel is called yuhuchunping. Yu hu or “jade vase” refers to the celadon glaze on early examples; chun means “spring,” and also referred to wine during the Tang dynasty. The form was modeled after Buddhist vessels used during the Tang dynasty to contain holy water.


Helmet (Kabuto)

A kabuto was designed to protect a samurai’s head and neck and to intimidate his enemies on the battlefield. Decorations on the helmet had aesthetic and symbolic value, indicating family or clan affiliation, religious concepts, or desired virtues.

This kabuto has prominent maedate (front crests) shaped as stylized horns called kuwagata. Both the maedate and the fukikaeshi (helmet wings) display chrysanthemums, a popular motif symbolizing longevity, often associated with the emperor and part of many family crests.



Milk Jug

Made by women of pastoral societies, such bulbous containers of finely coil-woven plant fiber probably held camel milk. A coating of resin and charcoal retarded spoilage. Rows of lead wirework in a running pattern and V-shaped accents decorate the body, neck, and knobbed stopper. Straps were probably once attached. Such containers are essential for ceremonies such as name giving of babies and weddings, and are associated with abundance and fertility.



Bandolier Bag

Made in the applique beading technique, the bag was worn over a man’s shoulder and across his chest. Members of the Grand Medicine Society, or Midewiwin, wore large beaded bags as a sign of their affiliation with this healing society.



‘Mukenga’ Mask

The helmet-type ‘elephant mask,’ or ‘Mukenga,’ of the Kuba people may have originated as early as the fourteenth century. This important mask is worn by a costumed dancer only during funeral ceremonies in memory of certain elite clan members. The elaborate, abstract, geometric designs and materials establish its connection to high status members by the costly, labor-intensive construction, in sharp contrast to less pricey painted masks.

Characteristically, the intricately worked, variously colored, decorative beadwork provides a striking frame for the leopard skin face, with prized, cowry shell eyes and a long, elaborately patterned nose. The slender, arching form atop the conical headdress represents an elephant trunk and two rectangles at its base ivory tusks. These features symbolize power and leadership and also reflect the prestige associated with elephant hunting and the value of ivory for such elite items as flywhisks.




The burnished black pot is decorated with an avanyu (horned water serpent) motif within a matte black band. The bowl is enhanced by the symmetrical modeling, smooth rim and lustrous hand-polished surface. The popular black-on-black ware was developed by Maria Martinez and her husband Julian in the early twentieth century, and their son also carried on this tradition.



Sheath with knife

Equipped with a small knife, this beaded sheath features triangular lodge (tipi) motifs and white backfield, as well as a beaded tassel—all typical of Lakota art.




A Washoe woman used the three-rod coiled method in fashioning the basket. Woven strips of willow, redbud, and bracken fern root fibers form geometric designs on the sides. Dyed strips were overlashed for the geometric decoration.



Haida Seal Grease Bowl

This hand-carved, ovoid-shaped oil bowl reflects the distinctive and formalized art style of the Haida people. On one end is a deftly carved head of a seal and at the other its flippers. A traditional face on the body of a stylized frog stares out from under the head. The bowl once contained oil and the residue is still visible.

Spirit creatures, animals, and legends were important to the Haida. One such mythic creature was the frog, long a part of their art and mythology. Its significance probably originated from early migrants over the Bering Sea and is believed ancestrally related to the Haida. On the Northwest coast where they settled, there were no frogs to be found. A legend relates how a council of frogs judged this island territory to be inhabited by dangerous, voracious beasts. All the frogs fled, but not traditional depictions of the mythic animal.




The figure exhibits the natural gifts of an acclaimed folk artist William Edmondson of Nashville. According to the sculptor, in 1932 God appeared at his bed and “he talked so loud he woke me up.” Edmondson was told “to pick up my tools and start to work on a tombstone . . . he hung a tombstone for me to make.”

Edmondson began to carve tombstones. Later, he heeded God’s message in the form of preachers, women, doves, turtles, angels, rabbits, horses, and other animals. In addition to becoming a vital figure in burial art and in the Nashville art scene, Edmondson went on to become an important international artist. In 1937, he became the first African American artist to be featured in a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.



Punch Bowl

The impressive, deep, rimmed bowl was crafted from six separate sections. The body parts were shaped by “spinning” on a lathe; the leafy, grapevine reliefs and claw feet were cast and applied. Grape motifs were popular during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Mark of Tiffany & Co.




The ornamental basketwork style, introduced in 1865, is hand-modeled in fine clay rods with a braided center. Tinted glazes enhance delicate, applied flowers and tendrils. The basket has the mark of Belleek Co., Fermanagh, Ireland.



The Vine

Numerous statues of dancing women were produced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, inspired by the romance of the ballet and the popularity of choreographers and dancers in popular culture.

Frishmuth used as her sculptural model the dancer Desha, a young Yugoslavian émigré, who is believed poised in a moment in her dance “Modernistic Tango.” The graceful nude figure leans backward and upward in a sensuous movement of a living vine to complement the curving grapevine she suspends before her. The dancing figure, in combination with the twisting plant forms, reflects the lingering Art Nouveau style.

Frishmuth was a member of a new group of women sculptors who gained considerable attention for their work in America. Frishmuth studied in Paris under Rodin, Gauquier, and Injalbert, and later in Berlin and New York. The Vine was awarded the Shaw Memorial Prize in 1923, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina both have a casting of the work.



Ornithopod eggs

The shape of the eggs and the microscopic structure of the eggshell, compared with previously identified eggs, suggest ornithopod origins, probably a hadrosaur. Ornithopods include herbivorous dinosaurs with three-toed feet. The hadrosaurs were the most numerous, widespread, and diverse of the ornithopods.



Bivalve Mollusc, the State Fossil of Tennessee

Pterotrigonia (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica (nicknamed “Ptero”) was a Cretaceous bivalve found in the Coon Creek Formation of West Tennessee. It was a wedge-shaped, shallow-burrowing suspension feeder that inhabited the marine clayey sand ocean floor that was West Tennessee 70 million years ago. Shells of “Ptero” are preserved unaltered in great abundance and are easily recognized by collectors.

The associated ocean floor inhabitants were diverse and included other bivalves, snails, squid-like animals, worms, sponges, corals, crustaceans, sharks, fish, turtles, and marine reptiles. “Ptero” is now extinct. In fact, the extinction event responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago may have contributed to the demise of Ptero (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica. Only the genus Neotrigonia, with five species, has survived to the present, and is found only in the Pacific Ocean, most commonly near New Zealand. This fossil is sitting on its matrix, the clay sediment of the sea floor.



Jaguar partial maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw)

A number of finds of large-toothed cats have occurred in Tennessee. Several fossils of jaguar confirm its presence in Middle and southeastern Tennessee during the Pleistocene—the last ice age in Tennessee. It was almost certainly a major predator of the many grazing animals of the time, and is now extinct.




Flowery in appearance, crinoids are animals. Attached to the ocean floor, they feed on organic matter suspended in the water, using their feathery arms to move food toward the mouth. This beautiful specimen shows the arms, calyx or head, stem, and the root-like holdfast, which anchored the animal to the sea bottom.



Male Effigy, Probable Ancestor Figure

This Native American sandstone image probably represents an ancestor of a chiefly lineage, and is a magnificent example of Mississippian statuary. The significance of human figures in Mississippian society is inferred from two lines of evidence: where they are found and who is depicted. Figures such as this one are found all across the Southeast and Midwest at important Mississippian town sites. In some cases, figures were found buried in or near temple mounds, indicating they were a central feature of the community. The male figure is commonly associated with a female figure in a similar posture. Pairs of males and females from public contexts have been interpreted by archaeologists as prominent ancestors of a lineage. A female figure was found in the same context as this male figure in Wilson County, Tennessee, in 1939.

The appearance of an older man is clearly implied by wrinkles around his eyes and a sagging neck. Notice the presence of paint on his face and coloration of his eyes and mouth. Such intimate details, including an elaborate hairstyle, allow archaeologists to better infer what Mississippian individuals may have looked like, at least those of a high status in society.



Shell Gorget (pendant) with Eagle Dancers Motif

Elaborately engraved shell gorgets (pendants) reflect the rich artistic iconography of the southeastern Native Americans. The art of the Tennessee Indians reached a peak with the production of shell gorgets, or pendants. Made from wall sections from marine conch shells, they are engraved with a number of motifs that reflect the iconography of the Mississippian period belief systems.

This carved shell “Eagle Dancers” gorget from the Hixon site in Hamilton County, Tennessee, depicts two figures dressed in bird costumes with each holding a long “sword.” This piece has been called one of the finest examples of prehistoric southeastern Native American art.



Male Effigy Pipe

Smoking served an important social function in Mississippian society, as may be seen in the intricate details of this piece. The man is holding a large ceramic vessel that serves as a pipe bowl. The round hole in the back of the man would have been an attachment point for a tube, probably made of river cane, which acted as the pipe stem.

Notice details of the man’s face and hairstyle. The style is reminiscent of a famous sandstone seated male effigy figure, also in our collections.



Raven (?) Effigy Pipe

The social importance of smoking among Native Indian cultures has deep roots in the ancient past. Carved stone pipes such as this one were made and used for hundreds of years by skilled craftsmen. The material is usually a soft stone such as soapstone (also known as steatite) that was mined in and along the Appalachian Mountains in prehistoric times. The distribution of similar pipes throughout the Southeast is an indication of their value by Native Indians. In many cases, the pipes were carved into animal (zoomorphic) effigies that are still easily distinguishable.

In this case, the image of a raven is inferred from the heavy bill, wedge-shaped tail, and possibly even the use of a dark polished stone for the black body. A number of similar raven images have been found at woodland sites across the Southeast. The raven is a pivotal figure in Native Indian belief to this day as a trickster and a link to the spirit world above.




This gorget, or pendant, was of a type of pendant often gifted to the Cherokee headmen by the British. It is engraved with “Virginia,” and was probably manufactured in Williamsburg.



Duck River Cache

The Duck River Cache, so-named for its area of origin, is thought by many to be the greatest archaeological find in Tennessee. The Cache consists of forty-six chipped stone ceremonial implements found on the Link Farm in Humphreys County, Tennessee, in 1894.

The fantastic stone forms include hooks, disks, batons, axes, and bi-pointed “sword shapes”; these “swords” measure up to twenty-eight inches in length and represent some of the finest flint knapping in North America. The pieces date to the Late Mississippian period (ca. AD 1450). The swords, maces, hooks, and discs were not used as weapon but as symbols of leadership or authority.



Owl Effigy Ceramic Bottle

The bottle form was often used by prehistoric potters to create complex effigy forms, such as the one seen here. The two motifs on this bottle symbolize basic dualism in the worldview of the southeastern Indians. Humans in this world sought to maintain a balance between the forces of the upper world (symbolized by the owl) with those of the lower world (symbolized by the snake).

This particular bottle contains elements of effigy modeling and incising to create the desired artistic effect. Effigy modeling involves forming some shape in clay by hand and then applying it to a vessel, in this case to form the distinctive head and face of an owl. The potter also incised, or cut, a complex design into the body. The incising does not represent the body of an owl but rather that of a snake. Owls and snakes are prominent in Native Indian belief systems. The owl is figured as an animal of the Above World, a realm associated with the sun, stars, and possibly mythological heroes. On the other hand, snakes are powerful figures of the Underworld throughout the Southeast and are in opposition to figures of the Upper World. This vessel, with a depiction of figures from both realms, is one example of how Mississippian belief systems are organized around opposing forces such as life and death.



Clovis Points

Clovis points are the oldest identifiable stone points in North America, with an approximate age of 13,000 years. Their most distinguishing characteristics are their fine workmanship, large size (usually), and the presence of a distinctive groove, or flute, extending up from the base. Fluting a spear point requires great skill and is an identifying attribute of many American points from the Ice Age.

Although they are found all over the continent, Clovis points were first discovered among the skeletons of mammoths and ancient bison in the southwest United States near Clovis, New Mexico. Eventually, archaeologists also found Clovis campsites, stone quarry sites, and tool caches, all from about the same age. Points from the eastern United States such as this one are rarely found with ancient animal remains. It is unknown whether this discrepancy is due to differences in Clovis lifestyles or differences in the degree of bone preservation between regions.



Woven bag

Archaeologists seldom find textiles because most were made from plant material, which quickly decays. More often, they see weaving impressions in pottery or clay. But in 1982, they found a rare treasure—this bag—in a cave in Van Buren County, Tennessee. Radiocarbon dating determined that the bag was made 2,190 years ago. The weaver used several kinds of vegetable fiber, all probably local, to make the bag and to repair it at least five times.



Lidded double-weave basket

One of the few remaining pre-removal period baskets, this example was produced by the Cherokee people. The use of split cane was typical in the eastern Tennessee region, which was easily harvested in low-lying river settings. In this case, segments of split cane were immersed in a liquid with black walnuts (dark brown). Cane baskets were certainly used prehistorically in Tennessee, although few remains have been preserved from this area. Archaeologists have uncovered numerous preserved fragments from similar cane baskets and woven mats at Mississippian and Cherokee archaeological sites.



Grasshopper Majolica Pitcher

Majolica, a type of earthenware pottery covered with an opaque tin glaze, originated in medieval times on the Spanish Island of Majorca, then called Majolica. The ware became popular in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe, its heyday being 1850–1900. More affordable than porcelain or bone china, and known for its whimsical designs like this grasshopper pitcher, Majolica was very popular during the Victorian era.

The basic reddish earthenware was covered with glaze made white and opaque by the additional of tin or lead oxide. Later, highly colored glazes were applied as the molded body assumed more fantastic shapes. Forms and patterns inspired by nature, such as leaves, flowers, and animals, were used for both decorative and useful items such as dinnerware, platters, teapots, fountains, and pitchers. The grasshopper pitcher is one of some 2,000 collected by the sisters Jenny Moss Hensley and Nella Moss of Knoxville, and given to the University of Tennessee in 1934.



The Lucky Boxer, 1923

A doctor by trade, Robert Tait McKenzie began experimenting with sculptural figures of athletes around 1900, while serving as medical director and demonstrator of anatomy at McGill University in Montreal. He studied sculpture abroad in 1904, first in London and then in Paris, and quickly became well known for his statues, bas reliefs, and medals, though he continued as a practicing physician and scholar.

Though clearly inspired by classical Greek sculpture, McKenzie’s medical training gave him a unique and expert understanding of the human body, and his sculptures often depict the athlete in motion. Here, a boxer with four arms is seemingly able to defend himself and attack at the same time. An avid athlete in his own right, McKenzie studied the human body fastidiously in the studio, classroom, and anatomy lab, and even averaged the measurements of champion athletes to create the “ideal form” in his artwork.