The Exhibits

The 1893 Exhibit

In 1891, planning began for the World's Columbian Exposition (WCE) to be held in Chicago in the summer of 1893. The WCE would celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's first voyage with the goal of promoting Chicago as a center of industrial and cultural achievement.

Frederick Ward Putnam was hired as the chief of the fair's Department of Ethnology and Archaeology, and he in turn hired Franz Boas as his chief assistant. Franz Boas was put in charge of the Northwest Coast and physical anthropology exhibits, and hired James Deans, a former Hudson's Bay Company employee turned farmer from Victoria, B.C., to collect Haida material of the Anthropology exhibit at the fair, and to commission the model of Skidegate village.

In addition to the model village, Deans collected three boxcar-loads of Haida material, including a full-sized house and frontal pole and a 42-foot canoe. The set of model houses and poles was intended to be an accurate representation of Skidegate village (hlgaagilda 'llnagaay) as it was in 1864. This included 27 model houses, two model grave houses, all but 3 with frontal poles, and 17 free-standing model poles. He created a written record of the stories he acquired from the Skidegate residents telling the history of each house and model pole, and recorded the names of 17 of the Haida artists whom he commissioned.

Ten of these house models and 22 poles have survived in the collection of the Field Museum of Natural History; 19 house models and 21 model poles were exchanged or given away, and of those, 13 houses and 13 poles have been lost. The names of the 19th century artists are: Adam Brown, Peter Brown, John Cross, George Dickson, William Dickson, Daniel Ellguwuus (7iljuwaas), Phillip Jackson, Joshua (Kinna-jesser), Moses McKay, Phillip Pearson, John Robson (gyaawhllns), Amos Russ, David Shakespeare (skilduunaas), Peter Smith, Tom Stevens (tl'aajaang quuna), George L. Young, and Zacherias Nicholas.

Skidegate, photo by George Dawson, 1878.

Skidegate Model village installed in the Anthropology building, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893, photo by Charles Dudley Arnold.

Skidegate, 2006, photo by Robin K. Wright.

Top: Skidegate, photo by George Dawson, 1878, Libraries and Archives of Canada, neg no. PA38152. Middle: Skidegate Model village installed in the Anthropology building, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893, photo by Charles Dudley Arnold, Chicago Public Library, CDA 108. Bottom: Skidegate, 2006, photo by Robin K. Wright.

The Future Exhibit

In 2001, planning began for a traveling exhibit that would bring the 1893 model of Skidegate village back to Skidegate in 2011. Dr. Robin K. Wright has been working with the Haida Gwaii Museum staff and the Skidegate community to document the model houses, locate the missing ones, and correct and expand some of the information that was recorded by James Deans about the original houses in the village of Skidegate.

This exhibit will reassemble the model village of Skidegate including 29 house models and 43 model totem poles. It will include several newly carved house models to replace the 13 that remain missing and over 50 historical and contemporary photographs of the village of Skidegate, B.C. (hlgaagilda 'llnagaay) and its residents. History has come full circle for the Haida people today, from the late 19th century—when anthropologists thought their culture was dying—to today when the Haida have become models for all peoples who seek to preserve their cultures and share them with the world.

The exhibit will present the people behind the houses—the carvers and the families who lived in the houses; the evolving traditional Haida house architecture, changing house styles and the contemporary revival of cedar plank architecture; the enduring power of totem poles as cultural symbols of identity; and traditional stories about the origins of totem poles; elders' memories of life in Skidegate; and the settlement and migration of Haida people to Skidegate, disease and relocation of communities.

In addition, the exhibit will examine the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, and the role of indigenous cultures at the fair; the birth of anthropology and the role of Frederick Putnam, Franz Boas and James Deans in shaping that discipline.

This is a collaborative project between the Burke Museum's Bill Holm Center and the Haida Gwaii Museum at Kaay 'llnagaay. Research has been funded by the UW Royalty Research Fund, a Canadian Embassy Senior Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities Exhibit Planning Grant, and the College of Arts and Sciences, University of Washington. The Field Museum of Natural History has facilitated research on their collections and archival records.

  • The Burke Museum
  • The Bill Holm Center
  • The Haida Gwaii Museum
  • Logo: The Field Museum