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The core of our American collections was built from purchases. Primary amongst these are the Inuit and Northwest coast collections made by A.C. Haddon and donated to the Museum by Emslie Horniman. Other important donations to the Museum include pre-Columbian archaeological pieces from central Mexico and Oaxaca. John Eric Horniman, Emslie's son, also made an excellent collection of Plains Indian beaded material, including clothing, pipe bags and a bonnet.


The collection includes items transferred from other institutions such as the 59 Northwest coast pieces from the Museum of the American Indian, New York (1934), the two Kwatiutl masks and related material from the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (1958), as well as material collected in the field and other purchases such as a collection of Inuit seal skin clothing from the Church Missionary Society (1965). In 1961 the Museum acquired a Blackfoot Tipi, transferred from the Glenbow Museum, Canada.


During the last 50 years, the main focus of research and collecting has been on the American Southwest, in particular Navajo textiles, Pueblo ceramics and Hopi Katsinam. The Museum has also sponsored contemporary North American Indian artists. In 1966, Fred Stevens, a Navajo medicine man executed a sand painting in the museum, while in 1985 Nathan Jackson, of the Tlingit people of Alaska, carved and presented the Museum with a 25ft totem pole.