The George Gustav Heye subseries includes correspondence and subject files from before the founding of MAI through Heye's death in 1957. The bulk of his correspondence consists of purchase receipts and inquiries about Native American artifacts. There is a small amount of personal correspondence. George Heye subject files contain biographical information as well as various personal documents. Also included are eleven scrapbooks of newspaper clippings on the museum compiled by Heye between 1916 and 1947.
Biographical / Historical:
George Gustav Heye (1874--957) was the son of Carl Friederich Gustav Heye, a German immigrant who accumulated his wealth in the petroleum industry, and Marie Antoinette Lawrence Heye of Hudson, N.Y. George Gustav graduated from Columbia College in 1896 with a degree in electrical engineering. While on a engineering assignment on a railroad construction job in Arizona in 1897, he acquired an Apache deerskin shirt, marking the beginning of his passion for collecting. Initially, it was a hobby. Heye acquired single pieces until 1903, when he began collecting material in huge numbers. In 1901, he began a career in investment banking that would last until 1909. By then his passion for acquiring Indian cultural materials had become more important to him than banking. Throughout the remainder of his life, his energy and fortune were spent accumulating the largest private collection of Native American objects in the world.
Heye enjoyed his visits to American Indian communities, buying everything in sight. While other collectors focused on what was considered to be the highly significant object, Heye often bought every object he could find, shipping the items back to New York. The collection was initially stored in Heye's Madison Avenue apartment in New York City, and later, in a rented room. Eventually, the collection was moved to the Heye Foundation's Museum of the American Indian at 155th Street and Broadway. A life member of the American Anthropological Association and the American Museum of Natural History, Heye was also a life fellow of the American Geographical Society, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an honorary fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain. He received an honorary doctorate (1929) of philosophy from the University of Hamburg.
Heye's life and character is often defined by his passion for collecting. But the way he handled the collection indicates how complex and relatively unique Heye was as a museum director. Heye served as director of the Museum of the American Indian until his health failed in 1956.
Access to NMAI Archive Center collections is by appointment only, Monday - Friday, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm. Please contact the archives to make an appointment (phone: 301-238-1400, email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish or broadcast materials from the collection must be requested from the National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center. Please submit a written request to email@example.com.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation Records, Box and Folder Number; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.