Dlam (interior housepost), ca. 1907; Gift of John H. Hauberg; Kwakwaka'wakw, Dzawada'enuxw, Kingcome Inlet, 1884-1945

Seattle Art Museum’s Aboriginal Collection is Extensive, But How’d it Get That Way?


Vancouver Sun blogger Douglas Todd recently called Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) permanent collection of aboriginal artwork “beautiful, well-presented, entrancing and a touch mystical.” But he also pointed out that a good chunk of the pieces—19 out of 20 he says—are from British Columbia, Canada.

Todd goes on to wonder how such a collection came to be owned by an American museum.

“Many Canadian journalists, including me, have put together articles about the controversies involved when tribal groups in Canada seek to repatriate ancestral artifacts,” he writes. “But it seems the room for cultural tension grows even stronger when the artifacts are taken out of the country. Many of SAM’s donated artifacts came from John Hauberg, an Illinois collector from the early 1900s.”

This is true. When you look at the SAM site Hauberg is listed as the benefactor of many of the items in the permanent collection of aboriginal art. When his name is typed into a Google search, he’s called a “key backer” and “true patron” of Seattle art.

The Seattle Times reported that he donated 200 pieces from his Northwest Coast collection to SAM in 1991. Hauberg also served as the museum’s president from 1973 to 1978.

There is even a coffee table book titled The Spirit Within: Northwest Coast Native Art from the John H. Hauberg Collection that, according to an Amazon.com review was required reading for an undergraduate class in Northwest Coast Native American art. But how did he amass such a collection?

Todd poses the same question to his readers here.

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