Uncovering the Past

Uncovering The Past.jpg

Shan Goshorn
Approx 10.5” X 5.5” X 5.5”
Arches watercolor paper, archival inks, acrylic paint, artificial sinew

In 2015, I received a request from the Muscarelle Museum of Art, VA, asking me to create a basket in response to the history of William & Mary’s Brafferton Indian School. I agreed to do so and visited the campus to conduct on-site research utilizing information found in the Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center. I was fascinated to learn about this important historical institution and in particular the Brafferton’s connection with four tribes: the Cherokee, Nottoway, Pamunkey, and Wyandotte.

The Brafferton Indian School pre-dated the U.S. government sanctioned boarding schools of the late 1800’s by over 150 years, with a very different goal. Rather than trying to eliminate native culture and language from the lives of the young men instructed here, the schoolmasters instead encouraged students to maintain ties with their tribes and languages. These students were the sons of chiefs and influential tribal leaders. They were groomed to become liaisons and translators between their tribes and colonial dignitaries. The basket I created for the Muscarelle is entitled "Laying the Foundation.” In an effort to maintain a dialogue between multiple baskets, "Uncovering the Past" is created from the same splints.

Woven into this piece are the following documents: William and Mary Charter which designated the land and limited funding for the school; methods of financial support such as “rents” and “duties”; ledger sheets documenting income from fur trading and specific care costs allotted to the “Injun” students; and the bursar book records of other school expenses. The more deeply I researched a variety of documents made available to me by the Collection Center, the more clearly I was reminded of archaeological digs, which piece together civilization through the uncovering of artifacts. To symbolize the parallel experience of uncovering facts layer by layer, I chose the traditional Cherokee basketry pattern called “Arrowhead Point.” This is a valuable story that needs to be made available and shared because it is vastly unknown, even among native people.