The Pratt County Historical Society held a special opening of the Jon Hartman Native American collection for members and invited guests Saturday evening at the museum.
The Society inherited the collection following Hartman's death in December of 2014 and contractors have been working to create space, build cabinetry and install security for the approximately 800 items. About a third of the artifacts are currently on display and others will be rotated into the museum, hopefully on a 6- to 8-month schedule, according to curator Charmaine Swanepoel.
Hartman knew his collection and its provenance, but it was "all up here," said Thad Henry, a friend and Society member, pointing to his head. Another friend, Keven Hiebert, a Native American collector and dealer from Newton, helped identify items, tell them "what went with what," what's valuable and how old it is, Henry said, indicating a wooden flute thought to be 1,000 years old. Hartman did some repair to the piece, which Henry said was okay as long as he didn't try to conceal his work.
There is an extensive collection of baskets; some functional, others created for decorative purposes and sale to tourists in the late 1880s and after.
A dress and vest feature intricate beadwork, with beads made in Czechoslovakia and Italy sewn with sinew (muscle fiber). Even after commercial thread was available, sinew was preferred, because it was stiff and would hold the beads in alignment, Hiebert said.
The intricate beadwork was done in the 1880s, when the Indians were on reservations and no longer moving around and food was provided to them. Life on the Plains was a 24-hour subsistence situation, he said.
The vest and dress in the collection were most likely made by an older aunt or grandmother for a favorite nephew or grandson, and made to impress a white population at wild west shows.
Also on display are pottery, with at least one piece dating back 1,000 years, clothing, weapons, toys and a framed display of arrowheads.
Hartman began collecting when he was eight years old after a trip with his parents when he saw an artifact he wanted. They told him to save his money and buy it. Hiebert noted that when other boys were saving up for bicycles and BB guns, Hartman was buying "Indian stuff."
"He had a great eye for art," Hiebert said. "He could sort out the best and was very particular about what he would buy."
Until the 1990s, prices were relatively cheap — 50 cents for a pair of moccasins that Hartman bought for $1,500 after interest in Native Americans surged.
The opening of the exhibit brings about some changes. Admission for Historical Society members and children age 11 and under is free; for ages 12-18 it is $2 and for adults, it is $4. A lifetime membership in the Society is $150 and $100 for a spouse. Annual family membership is $40 and annual adult membership is $25.
In addition, plans are underway to advertise the new display throughout the region. They're also working with a tour company to highlight all of Pratt's museums: the Historical Museum, Vernon Filley Art Museum, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Education Center and B-29 Bombers on the Prairie Museum, Henry said.
"We think it will be a draw for the region — to go with the rest of the museum," he commented.
"It is a real great asset for the Pratt community," Hiebert said.
Historical Society members estimate that the Hartman exhibit represents one of the finest Native American collections in the state.