The John Canfield Ewers Papers document his wide ranging anthropological interests from early White depictions of Native Americans to the material culture of the Plains tribes through correspondence, exhibit catalogs, field notes, illustrations, lectures, maps, photocopies of archival materials, photographs, and writings. The collection includes materials relating to his numerous research projects and publications such as his books on plains sculpture and Jean Louis Berlandier as well as his field research among the Assiniboin and Blackfoot tribes. Ewers' career as an ethnologist based in a museum is amply documented through correspondence, exhibit plans and scripts, notes, and reports showcasing his work for the National Park Service and his fifty plus years at the Smithsonian. The voluminous correspondence file highlights his close collaboration with individuals such as Stu Conner, Hugh Dempsey, Claude Schaeffer, and Colin Taylor. Ewers' graduate studies and his family are featured in Series XI. One special category of materials in this collection is Series XIV, the card files. Ewers pulled information from his field notes and other sources, classified them, and typed or wrote them up on 3x5 or 5x7 inch index cards. He then organized these files alphabetically by subject within large categories such as "Collecting Alpha by Collectors Name" or "Fur Trade and Trade Goods." The card files include correspondence and photographs and closely relate to materials throughout the rest of the collection. Though Ewers' papers are primarily textual in nature, there are graphic materials throughout his files. Series XIII features the graphic materials that Ewers kept separate from his files such as the contents of his slide cabinets. There is overlap within this series as Ewers kept multiple copies of his slides in various locations. This series also includes audiotapes of conferences and symposia at which Ewers spoke and three scrapbooks. Of note are original pencil and ink drawings from his book, The Horse in Blackfoot Culture, in Series XV. Transcripts of oral history interviews with John Canfield Ewers are also available at the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
This collection was organized into 15 series - Correspondence, Research & Subject Files, Research Projects, Trips and Presentations, Artists of the Old West, North American Indian Art, Plains Sculpture Book, Berlandier Project, Smithsonian Institution, National Park Service, Personal, Writings by Ewers, Audiovisual Materials, Card Files, and Art Work.
John Canfield Ewers (1909-1997) earned a B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1931 and an M.A. in Anthropology from Yale University in 1934. Ewers began his career in museums as a Field Curator for the National Park Service. He helped design exhibits at Vicksburg National Battlefield and Ocmulgee National Monument among others. In 1941, the Bureau of Indian Affairs hired Ewers to design and establish the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, Montana. After a short stint in the Navy during World War II, Ewers joined the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution. He worked at the Smithsonian for over fifty years in numerous capacities including Director of the National Museum of History and Technology (now called the National Museum of American History). Ewers' research dealt with the Plains Indians and the Blackfoot tribe in particular. Ewers wrote several books on a wide variety of topics including White artists depictions of Native Americans, Plains Indian sculpture, and the horse in Blackfoot Indian culture.
The John Canfield Ewers papers are open for research.