Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South

March 4 - May 30, 2005



(above: Hawk effigy platform pipe; Illinois, Naples; 1-400 A.D.; pipestone; 3 3/8 x 4 5/16 inches; Anonymous loan to the Brooklyn Museum of Art )


Cahokia Mounds

Flourishing with art, science, and the remarkable construction achievements of its mounds and sun calendars, the Cahokia site became the regional center of the Mississippian Culture. At its zenith, from 1050 to 1200 A.D., the capital city covered nearly six square miles and, with a population close to 20,000, was one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world.

Cahokia Mounds, the site of the largest prehistoric settlement north of Mexico, lies eight miles east of metropolitan St. Louis in the wide Mississippi River floodplain known as the American Bottom. The 4,000-acre site was first inhabited in 700 A.D. by Woodland Indians, then from 800 to about 1400 A.D. by Indians of the Mississippian Culture. By 900 A.D. the Mississippians had developed a complex chiefdom society with a sophisticated agricultural system and a highly specialized political and religious order.


(above: Kneeling human-feline effigy figure; Florida, Colier County, Key Marco; 1400-1500 A.D.; wood; 5 7/8 inches; Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C.)


The remains of the ancient city have been preserved at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, [1] a 2,200-acre tract that contains 68 of the original 120 mounds constructed by the Mississippians. At the center of the site is Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the New World. A platform mound with a 14-acre base, Monks Mound contains an estimated 22 million cubic feet of earth and rises in four terraces to a height of 100 feet. It was at the summit of Monks Mound that the principal Mississippian ruler lived, conducted ceremonies, and governed the city. Monks Mound was named for the French Trappist monks who lived nearby in the early 1800s.


(above: Deer mask; Oklahoma, LeFlore County, Spiro, Craig Mound; 1200-1400 A.D.; red cedar and marine shell, 11 1/2 x 6 1/4 inches; Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C.)


The cause of the decline of this thriving society is not known, but by 1400 A.D. the population had vanished. Descendants of the Mississippian Culture -- the Osage, Omaha, Ponca and Quapaw Indians -- make no references to the capital city in their legends. Even the original name of the site is not known. The name Cahokia dates to the arrival of the French in the late 1600s when the site was inhabited by a sub tribe of the Illini Indians called the Cahokia.



(above: Deer effigy vessel; Nodena Red and White Type; Arkansas, White County, Little Red River; ceramic; 9 7/8 x 11 13/16 inches; Dr. Kent and Jonnie Westbrook Collection, Little Rock, Arkansas )


Exhibition Catalogue

An illustrated catalogue co-published by the and Yale University Press containing 288 pages with 440 illustrations accompanies the exhibition Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South, exploring the themes of a large branch of Pre-Columbian civilization that is virtually unknown to the American public -- that of the midwestern and southern United States. Masterpieces of stone, ceramic, wood, shell, copper, silver, and gold are examined in detail. Also included are personal reflections of contemporary Native Americans, who offer their insights into the significance of these artifacts and their connection to Native American cultural practices today.

ISBN 0-300-10601-7 (hardcover). [2]



1. Click here to visit the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site's web site

2. Description courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

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