American Indians in Tiffany’s Marquette Mural

American Indians in Tiffany’s Marquette Mural


I’m Kelly Conway and I’m the curator of American glass at The Corning Museum of Glass. Over his long 50 year career, Louis Comfort Tiffany devoted significant resources to exploring the artistic potential of glass. Under his direction, he formed artistic firms in New York City where hundreds of artists and artisans created leaded glass windows, lampshades, blown glass vessels, and glass mosaics. Tiffany’s firm promoted their innovative mosaic approach at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois where over two million people visited the company’s display. The firm also advertised glass mosaics as fireproof, practically indestructible, and ideal decoration for industrial cities across America, where smoke and soot dimmed all exposed surfaces. It’s no surprise that for a city like Chicago, which suffered a devastating fire in 1871, Tiffany’s glass mosaics were especially appealing. Tiffany’s firm was commissioned to create a series of mosaic panels for the entrance lobby of the Marquette office building in downtown Chicago. Depicting key scenes from the North American expedition of French missionary Jacques Marquette and explorer Louis Joliet, a four-foot tall frieze was composed of 12 mosaic panels, made up of over 200,000 pieces of glass and 10,000 pieces of mother-of-pearl. Various glassmaking techniques that had never before been used in mosaics can be seen here. Pressed, jewel-like glass was made in different shapes and colors, they were transparent or opaque, smooth or faceted. Large pieces were cut from glass sheets with specific streaks and spotting and used for areas like the tan-colored buckskin, the wooden handles of guns and canoe paddles, the dark fabric of Marquette’s robe, or the hide of a teepee. Textured glass with folds and ripples was used for the feathered headdresses or the voluminous sleeves of the explorers. All of these innovative types of glass added complexity to the otherwise two-dimensional mosaic, enhancing the reflection of light on the figures of the explorers and Native Americans. While the mosaic artwork showcases the skill and creativity of Tiffany’s designers and artisans and Tiffany’s vision for the expressive possibilities of glass, it’s also important to consider how stereotypical images like these developed in American art and popular culture over the course of the 19th century. To find out more about this, the Museum’s director of education and the video team went to Miami, Oklahoma to talk with a member of the Peoria Tribe, whose ancestors are represented in this mural. I’m Kris Wetterlund, director of education and interpretation at The Corning Museum of Glass, and I’m here with Logan Pappenfort at Peoria Tribal Headquarters. And Logan, tell us what you do for the Peoria Tribe. I am the tribal historian for the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, and if it involves culture of the tribe, I’m your guy. Kris: So we have been talking about the Tiffany mosaic mural that is in the Marquette Building in Chicago and in that mural, there are pictures of Marquette and Joliet’s journey down the Mississippi River where they interacted with Native Americans, some of whom were your ancestors. But the Native Americans in the mural don’t look like your ancestors, do they? Logan: No, they do not. The biggest thing that I noticed when I was looking at the mural, as not only a tribal historian, but as a tribal member, is that they look very much like Plains Indians. Unfortunately, even though this is a very striking mural and it’s very beautiful, it perpetuates that stereotype which we all see, you know, when you think of an Indian, you’re going to think of a guy in a full headdress, you’ll probably think of buffalo hide or buffaloes in some way, shape, or form, but very Plains idea, and one thing that I think needs to be said is Native Americans were very different all over the country and each tribe had its own look, its own garb, its own attire and that’s something you don’t see in art enough. Kris: So, um, on this journey, when they encountered the Peoria, they were given a pipe but also one of the tribal members accompanied them as they went further south. Is that right? Logan: That is correct. The chief’s son went with them at the request of the chief and he took with him the peace pipe so that way, not only would the other tribes see the peace pipe, but they would also see there’s a native with them and these people come in peace and they’re not here to conquer us, so I would say that it’s very fitting that the Native American people are so prominent on this mural because they were a huge part of it. Kris: There are several stereotypes in this mural. Why is it important, do you think, that we recognize them as stereotypes? Logan: It’s important that we recognize when the stereotype came from so that we can avoid perpetuating the stereotype in the future. The point is to set the record straight and to make sure people can love this art and evaluate this art, but understand the time period it came from and the stereotypes it perpetuates while still being a magnificent art piece.

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