Sunday, October 2, 2022

Jamestown Settlement’s upcoming special exhibition

Turkey feather mantle, circa 1930s, made by Mollie Adams, Upper Mattaponi. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection)
Turkey feather mantle, circa 1930s, made by Mollie Adams, Upper Mattaponi. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection)

In cooperation with tribal communities in Virginia, Jamestown Settlement will host a special exhibit featuring a variety of significant and sacred items and photos of the Upper Mattaponi tribe.

The exhibition, made possible by a grant from James City County, is called “FOCUSED: A Century of Virginia Indian Resilience,” and will take place from Jan. 29, 2021 through March 25, 2022.

The objects and pictures include the work from contemporary American Indian photographers, Smithsonian collections, award-winning photojournalists, and anthropologist Frank Speck, who researched the Upper Mattaponi tribe in what is known as King William County in the 1910s. Speck’s notes will also be included in the exhibit, according to a news release from the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

The goal of the exhibition is to “highlight themes central to Virginia Indian daily life, including the establishment and maintenance of Virginia Indian reservations and tribal lands, education, hunting and fishing, and traditional crafts and cultural heritage.”

One of the featured objects is an elaborate hand-woven mantle made of turkey feathers, which is part of the permanent collection of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and hasn’t been publicly displayed since 2007.

This vibrant and iridescent garment was made by Mollie Adams, an early 20th century Upper Mattaponi tribal leader with whom Speck met and learned from in 1918. Her husband, Jasper Lewis Adams, was chief of the Upper Mattaponi for 50 years until his death in the early 1970s. Their grandson, Kenneth Adams, is the current chief.

“This feather mantle is a phenomenal surviving example of this art form, representative of a craft that was passed along through many generations,” said Luke Pecoraro, director of Curatorial Services for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

The Upper Mattaponi tribe and the Adams family were heavily impacted by the continued displacement of Native Americans in Virginia and the financial and social ostracization that came with it.

Mollie Adams in particular is known for her activism against the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, a racist and segregationist law spearheaded by Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics registrar and infamous white supremacist Walter Plecker.

Portrait of Mollie Adams, Upper Mattaponi, 1918. (Frank Speck photograph collection, N12647; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution)
Portrait of Mollie Adams, Upper Mattaponi, 1918. (Frank Speck photograph collection, N12647; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution)

The law, eventually overturned in 1967 with Loving v. Virginia, stated that all indigenous people in Virginia were to be classified as “colored” and specifically aimed to prevent the mixing of races.

Mollie Adams fought against this legislation and was heavily involved in tribal activism and preservation of tribal traditions, like the weaving of feather garments like the mantle featured in the exhibition.

The special exhibition is included with museum admission at Jamestown Settlement ($18 for adults, $9 for ages 6-12, and free for children younger than 6). To learn more, call 757-253-4838 or visit the museum’s website.

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