Photographs depicting Native American baskets and portraits of Native Americans with whom C. Hart Merriam worked, as well as scenic views and images of animals and plants, mostly in California. Many of the photographs were made by Merriam himself or his daughter Zenaida Merriam Talbot. In addition, Merriam collected photographs from other researchers and photographers, including J. S. Diller, John Peabody Harrington, Henry Wetherbee Henshaw, and O. E. Meddaugh. There are also images acquired from the Boysen Studio of Yosemite and photographs of Mark Twain, John Muir, basketmaker Maggie James, and Merriam's family.
Clinton Hart Merriam (1855-1942) was a Columbia University-educated physician who worked as a naturalist, including as head of the Biological Survey for the US Department of Agriculture. He joined the Harriman Alaska Expedition as a zoologist in 1899. In 1910, he left the USDA and began to conduct research among California tribes. Financed by Mary W. Harriman and the E. H. Harriman Fund administered by the Smithsonian, he researched tribes' vocabularies, history, mythology, crafts (particularly basketmaking) until about 1936. His resarch was assisted by his daughter, Zenaida, who took photographs and painted glass slides for him. Merriam served as President of the Anthropological Society of Washington in 1920-1921.
Local Call Number(s):
NAA Photo Lot 74-27
Additional information supplied by Marvin Shodas.
Location of Other Archival Materials:
Merriam's notes held in the National Anthropological Archives in MS 1563 and in the Smithsonian Institution Archives in SIA Acc. 12-264.
Additional photographs by Merriam held in the National Museum of American Indian Archives in the Mary Harriman Rumsey Photograph Collection and the Harriman Alaska Expedition Photograph Collection.
Correspondence from Merriam held in the National Anthropological Archives in MS 4558, the Department of Anthropology records (Manuscript and Pamphlet file), Bureau of American Ethnology records, J.C. Pilling Papers, Ales Hrdlicka Papers, and Jesse Logan Nusbaum Papers.
The Bancroft Library at University of California, Berkeley holds the C. Hart Merriam Papers, C. Hart Merriam Collection of Native American Photographs (prints corresponding to negatives in this collection), and C. Hart Merriam pictorial collection.
This collection contains 374 photographic prints and 38 copy negatives made by Grace Nicholson, a collector and dealer of Native American and Asian arts and crafts in Pasadena, California. The majority of the photographs were made between 1910 and 1930 among various native communities in California, though there are smaller amounts of photographs in Arizona and New Mexico. Communities photographed include—Hupa, Yurok, Pomo, Karuk (Karok), Tolowa, Yokayo Pomo, Achomawi (Pit River), Atsugewi (Hat Creek), Hopi Pueblo, Kumeyaay (Digueno), Mojave (Mohave), Paiute, Taos Pueblo, Wintu, Acoma Pueblo, Maidu, Chukchansi Yokuts, Yokuts.
Scope and Contents:
The Grace Nicholson photograph collection contains 374 black and white photographic prints (38 copy negatives) made by Grace Nicholson between 1905 and 1930 however many of the photographs are undated. The majority of the photographs were shot within various native communities in California, including Hupa, Yurok, Pomo, Karuk (Karok), Tolowa, Yokayo Pomo, Achomawi (Pit River), Atsugewi (Hat Creek), Maidu, Chukchansi Yokuts, Yokuts, Kumeyaay (Digueno), Wintu. There are smaller amounts of photographs from Arizona and New Mexico which include photographs within Hopi Pueblo, Taos Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo, Mojave (Mohave) and Paiute communities.
A large number of these photographs include portraits of Native men and women posed with baskets, either made by themselves or other community members. There are also posed portraits of families in front of their homes and going about their daily activities. Nicholson was often close with the families she photographed and took care to include their names with the images, though there are many photographs where the sitters are still unidentified. Some photographs of certain dances and ceremonies have been restricted due to cultural sensitivity.
The majority of the prints are silver gelatin (DOP) and the copy negatives (acetate) were made by the Museum of the American Indian sometime in the 1960s as part of a large photograph conservation project. There were also a number of photographic prints found within the Grace Nicholson manuscript materials (NMAI.AC.001) that were transferred to the photo archives in the early 2000s.
Prints from Grace Nicholson: P05451-P05497, P05505, P08339-P08368, P08469-P08479, P09400-P09453, P09463-P09464, P09836-P09838. Prints from Thyra Maxwell: P18316-P18317, P18932-P19107, P20830-P20836, P20999-P21075. Prints pulled from the MAI records (NMAI.AC.001): P28169, P28170, P28443-P28445. Copy Negatives: N35814-N35844, N36250, N41439, N41551-N41556.
Arranged by catalog number.
Biographical / Historical:
Grace Nicholson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 31, 1877. She moved to California following her parents and grandparents death, in 1901 and was soon purchasing Native American baskets and other artifacts in association with Carrol S. Hartman, an old family friend from the East. Traveling north through California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and south and east through Arizona and New Mexico, she collected, not only for herself, but also for such institutions as the Smithsonian, the Field Columbian Museum of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania Department of Archeology and later the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation. Nicholson kept extensive diaries and notes on her buying trips through Native American territory, especially of the Karok, Klamath, and Pomo Indians. Her subjects included Native American legends, folklore, vocabulary, tribal festivals, basket making, the art trade, and living conditions. Native American artists with whom Nicholson established long-term business and personal connections included Pomo basket weaver Mary Benson (1878-1930) and her husband William Benson (1862-1937), as well as Elizabeth Hickox (1875-1947) of the Karuk tribe. By August of 1902 she was establishing a shop and studio at 41-143 Raymond Ave., Pasadena and she regularly paid higher prices than competitive buyers, thereby obtaining the finest pieces.
In 1909 Grace Nicholson was awarded a silver medal for her ethnological collection exhibited at the Alaska-Yukon- Pacific Exposition in Seattle. In 1924, Nicholson designed and opened a new building for her collections nicknamed the "Treasure House" where she also handled the work of a number of the outstanding artists among them, Joseph H. Sharp and Grace Carpenter Hudson. Throughout her collecting career, Nicholson maintained a correspondence with George Heye selling and donating collections to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation from 1916 until her death in 1948.
Following Nicholson's death, her Native American Indian art collection was left to her assistants Thyra Maxwell and Estelle Bynum who became the executors of her estate. Her 12,000-item Asian art collection was auctioned by the Curtis Gallery in November 1950 and purchased by Los Angeles businessman Edker Pope. In 1968, Maxwell donated Nicholson's papers and photographs to The Huntington Library and sold Nicholson's collection of baskets made by the Bensons, as well as a large collection of correspondence and myths from William Benson, to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, of New York City (now the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution).
The majority of Grace Nicholson's papers and photographs can be found at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California; Grace Nicholson Photograph Collection (photCL 56), Grace Nicholson Papers and Addenda (mssNicholson papers and addenda).
Additional Nicholson material can be found at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley; Photographic negatives and prints of Calif. Indian baskets and other ethnographic items handled by Grace Nicholson from about 1912-1925 (Accession 2880), Grace Nicholson's ledger of Indian baskets from about 1912-1925 in Pasadena, California (Accession 2881).
Correspondence between Grace Nicholsan and George Heye as well as Pomo myths recorded from William Benson can be found in the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation records (NMAI.AC.001) in Boxes 262, 262A, 263. Baskets made by Mary and William Benson, as well also additional collections donated and sold by Nicholson to the Museum, can be found in NMAI's ethnographic collection.
The majority of the photographic prints were donated by Thyra Maxwell in 1968 and 1969. The rest of the photographs accompanied collections purchased by the Museum of the American Indian or presented to the Museum from Grace Nicholson in 1923.
Access to NMAI Archive Center collections is by appointment only, Monday - Thursday, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm. Please contact the archives to make an appointment (phone: 301-238-1400, email: firstname.lastname@example.org). Photographs with cultural sensitivity are restricted.
Permission to publish materials from the collection must be requested from National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center. Please submit a written request to email@example.com. For personal or classroom use, users are invited users to download, print, photocopy, and distribute the images that are available online without prior written permission, provided that the files are not changed, the Smithsonian Institution copyright notice (where applicable) is included, and the source of the image is identified as the National Museum of the American Indian.