The Use of Historical


Manikins:  What
are they?

The Photograph
as Artifact

Content Analysis
of the Photograph 

The Manikin's

on the Print 
Chief Red Cloud
in the 1870s

The Red Cloud
Manikin's Physical

Sidney Moulthrop:

Clothing and

The Shirt

Red Cloud's Manikin and His Uncle's Shirt:
Historical Representation in the Museum
as Seen Through Photo Analysis

Joanna C. Scherer with Vicki Simon

Uncle's shirt, front
Click for larger Image
Red Cloud manikin
Click for larger Image
Uncle's shirt, back
Click for larger Image

Department of Anthropology
Handbook of North American Indians
National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)
Smithsonian Institution

The following material cannot be cited without permission of SCHERER .
  The paper will be published in its entirety at a later date.

(Click here for acknowledgments)


Project Background
     This study examines photographs of early manikins representing Plains Indians in the Smithsonian Institution during the 1870s.  The kinds of research required and the types of information that can be retrieved from historical photographs will be exemplified through the analysis of these images.

     A photograph of a manikin was selected for use in volume 13 of the Handbook of North American Indians: Plains (2001) because it seemed to be a very early museum representation of a Plains Indian.  It appeared to be half of a stereograph because of the rounded top of the image and to have been taken at the Smithsonian Institution Castle, due to the unique sandstone in the background of the photograph.  Comparative research brought to light three other related prints, which initiated further investigation as to whom the Plains Indian manikin in the photograph represented.

The Use of Historical Photographs
     Historical photographs relating to American Indians are primary documents.  They cannot be taken at face value, however, but require comparative analysis supported by ethnohistorical research.  Fundamental questions must be asked in considering a photograph as a historical artifact:
  • What kind of image is it?
  • When was it made?
  • Who made it?
  • Where was it made?
  • How was it used?
  • Who was the audience?
     To use visual documents without first answering these fundamental questions relegates them to the realm of generic Indian stereotypes.  Only after these fundamental questions have been answered can responsible use be made of an image for research or publication.  An image that preserves the earliest manikin representing a Plains Indian in the Smithsonian Institution will be discussed as an example of the kinds of research required and the types of information that can be retrieved from historical photographs. This example reveals the politics of Plains Indian representation during the 1870s and serves to identify museum artifacts that had lost their provenance over the course of more than a century. Manikins:  What are they?
     The term manikin or mannequin refers to four types of human imagery:

1)  An early dress form or tailor's dummy, which dates back to Ancient Egyptian's times; such forms were found in King Tutankhamen's tomb

2)  The fashion doll

3)  A lay figure or artist's model

4)  A wax portraiture, sculpture, or effigy (the Plains Indian Chief manikin under discussion falls into this category)

     Manikins viewed individually provide specific information about the ideal racial type of a period and, in this case, insight into how Plains Indians, in particular Sioux men, were perceived during this time.  It is questionable whether, by using a face mask for a manikin or sculpting it from a photo of a real individual, museum exhibitors intended to represent an individual or simply a racial type. The fact that the clothing, ornaments, and handicrafts used on the manikin were never owned by the named individual or were even of the same tribal group leads one to believe that no real personal association was attempted.  While accuracy in depicting a cultural type was no doubt desired, it would appear that popular appeal was more important than representing a particular individual.

Text by:
Joanna C. Scherer, Anthropologist/Illustrations Researcher
Handbook of North American Indians

Web page designed by

Katherine Hais, Union College
Christina Redmond, George Washington University
Kristen H. Zeiser, Smith College

This web site was constructed with the
assistance and support of

Gayle Yiotis, Smithsonian Institution, NMNH,
Department of Anthropology,
Repatriation Office

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History