WILLIAMSBURG, Va., November 23, 2020 – A turkey feather mantle hand-woven by a leading member of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe in the 1930s will be among the featured objects in Jamestown Settlement’s upcoming special exhibition, “FOCUSED: A Century of Virginia Indian Resilience,” opening in January 2021.
The mantle, made by Mollie Adams and still retaining the iridescence and glow of countless turkey feathers, will join other significant Virginia Indian objects and photographs taken in the 1910s to the present day from professional and personal collections to weave together the stories of Virginia Indians and their perseverance over the last century, from the passage and repeal of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 to the state and federal recognition of 11 Virginia tribes today.
In collaboration with Virginia Indian tribal communities, Jamestown Settlement, a museum of 17th-century Virginia, will present this contemporary exhibition on January 29, 2021, through March 25, 2022. It will feature the photography collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, as well as images from anthropologist Frank Speck in 1910s to 1930s, the work of award-winning Baltimore Sun photographer A. Aubrey Bodine in the 1940s and 1950s, and portraits by contemporary American Indian photographers.
“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 mantle, in the permanent collection of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, was last on public display in 2007.
Anthropologist Frank Speck undertook extensive research of some of the Virginia Indian tribes, including the Upper Mattaponi community in King William County, where he met Mollie Adams (1881-1973) and her family in 1918. Speck’s written field notes included descriptions of feather work which correspond to the turkey feather mantle to be featured in the exhibition.
Mollie Adams, was an Upper Mattaponi tribal leader with her husband, Jasper Lewis Adams, who served as chief of the Upper Mattaponi from 1923 to 1973, followed by her son Andrew Washington Adams in 1974-1985. Her grandson, Kenneth Adams, serves as chief of the Upper Mattaponi today. Mollie and Jasper Adams raised 12 children in King William County and faced similar hardships as her neighbors, including poverty, difficulty in attaining education, as well as bigotry and segregation in the wake of the 1924 Racial Integrity Act.
The Racial Integrity Act, created through the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics, reclassified all Virginia Indians as “negro” or “colored,” a law that was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. For Mollie Adams, she obtained a certified statement of her Indian ancestry, and worked to build a strong foundation for the Upper Mattaponi through her church and tribal activism.
The special exhibition, supported by a grant from James City County, will 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.
About Jamestown Settlement
Jamestown Settlement explores the world of America’s first permanent English colony and the Powhatan Indian, English and west central African cultures that converged in the 17th century. Through comprehensive and immersive indoor exhibits and outdoor living-history experiences, the museum explores life in the Jamestown colony and its first century as Virginia’s capital.
Visitors can learn about Virginia Indian history and culture in the 17th century through expansive indoor galleries and artifacts and, outdoors in a re-creation of Paspahegh Town, based on the archaeological findings at a nearby site along the James River once inhabited by Paspahegh Indians, the Powhatan tribal group closest to Jamestown, and descriptions and illustrations recorded by English colonists in the 17th century.
Jamestown Settlement, located on Route 31 just southwest of Williamsburg, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; closed on Christmas and New Year’s days. The special exhibition is included with museum admission. In 2021, admission to Jamestown Settlement is $18.00 for adults and $9.00 for ages 6-12; children under 6 are free. Parking is free. For more information, call (757) 253-4838 or visit historyisfun.org/focused.