“Reflections Across Time: Seminole Portraits”

Students at the opening of "Reflections Across Time" at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. (Photo courtesy of The Seminole Tribune)

The exhibition Reflections Across Time: Seminole Portraits, featuring works of art from three Smithsonian museums, examines the intersection of portrait and identity through more than 150 years of Seminole leaders and tribal history. Created through a partnership between the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in Miami and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum in Clewiston, Fla., the exhibition presents 19th- and 20th-century images and artifacts that illustrate the significance of the Seminole tribe’s history.

The inspiration for the exhibition is a George Catlin portrait of Osceola, a well-known Seminole who lived in the early 1800s. The portrait, in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is a favorite of Frost Museum Director Carol Damian, who thought that “an exhibition based on that portrait would expand beyond masterpieces” to include current Seminole portraiture and artifacts.

Frost Exhibition Curator Annette B. Fromm took this “kernel of an idea” and approached the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum with the thought of creating a joint exhibition.

“Not only is Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki a fellow Affiliate, but they are a neighbor, and it’s a natural fit,” said Fromm. “The collaboration made for both a better beginning and end product.”

"Os-ce-o-lá, The Black Drink, a Warrior of Great Distinction" by George Catlin, 1838

Designed to coincide with Viva Florida 500 — a commemoration of Florida’s 500th anniversary — the exhibition will be on view at only these two Affiliates. However, the exhibition’s content and focus is slightly different at each venue. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s version includes Seminole artifacts from their own collections and works of art from 20th-century artists, while the Frost Museum includes pieces in their collections along with loans from the National Museum of the American Indian.

Complementing the pieces drawn from the two Affiliate collections are works of art and artifacts on loan from the American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Gallery of Art.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Exhibits Curator John Moga said, “We were able to create two different forms of the exhibition that fit each of our distinct museums and galleries. In the process, we connected with contemporary Seminole artists, which led to us purchasing two pieces that are now in the exhibition.”

Fromm added, “the Seminole are very significant people in Florida. They brought in the voice of their people and created a different experience in their galleries.”

“In 2011 I came to the Smithsonian through the Affiliations Visiting Professionals Program. Although I had already selected the artifacts via online databases, I found the conversations with curators and other staff members gave me guidance on unexpected ways to look at objects, access to a new point of view, and references to little known research,” said Fromm.

Fromm also valued the input she received from Moga. “We discussed the importance of one object versus another, which is a vital part of the collaboration. We invited others to express their ideas; this process opens you to other ways of people’s thinking. It’s a careful choreography that is immensely rewarding.”

Moga agrees. “The exhibition became a wonderful tool to make a connection with contemporary artists and with the Frost Museum. We would like to do more projects like this one in the future.”

Damian also felt that the collaboration made the exhibition stronger. “The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki has been especially helpful to us making those connections to the artists, opening their collection vaults to us, and sharing their expertise.”

Mike Osceola, direct descendant of the Seminole leader, looks at Catlin's 1838 portrait Of Osceola, on loan to the Frost Art Museum. (Photo courtesy of the Frost Museum)

Posted: 22 January 2013
About the Author:

Cara Seitchek is a Washington, D.C.–based freelance writer and editor, specializing in museums, finance and science. She teaches writing classes for UCLA Extension and the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md., and has a Master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University.