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Museum Mondays
Weekly Terrarium posts about the Logan Museum of Anthropology & the Wright Museum of Art.

The work of the Beloit College Museums is covered in a weekly feature we like to call "Museum Mondays". Keep up with the collections by perusing the rich content found in the posts below.


MUSEUM MONDAYS: Playing with a full deck

October 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm

card 1 

People say that a picture is worth  1000 words, so how many words are 52 pictures worth?  Maybe we’ll find out by the end of this page.

Let's spend a little time looking into the story surrounding a recently catalogued acquisition from the Logan’s collection, a deck of playing cards donated by Marilyn Delaney of Beloit. Cards are a common enough object in most people’s lives, but this deck is special. Each card in the deck has a unique photographic image depicting the Pueblo culture of the American Southwest. Here are a couple of examples:

card 3 

As you can see the subject matter of the images varies significantly, allowing for a pretty comprehensive glimpse of Pueblo life.

card 2 

The deck was produced by the Lazarus & Melzer book and stationary company of Los Angeles.  An original advertisement for the deck in The Magazine of California and the West’s June to December edition from 1900 states:

Fifty-three of the best photographs of the homes and faces of the Pueblo Indians, taken in the last few years by A.C. Vroman of Pasadena, are ingeniously arranged and excellently reproduced for the “American souvenir playing-cards;” and a zarape in colors illuminates the back of each card.  It is a handsome and typical collection.  Lazarus & Melzer, Los Angeles, $1.

The photographer, Adam Clark Vroman , was part of the Pasadena-centered Arroyo Seco art and nature movement during the late half of the 19th century. Born April 15, 1856 in La Salle, Ill., Vroman moved to Pasadena in 1893 in an attempt to improve his wife’s failing health. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to work since she passed away a year later. Shortly after her death, Vroman became actively involved in photography and even participated in scientific and ethnographic expeditions in the American Southwest starting in 1897. During his golden years of production (1895-1904) he became well known for capturing sweeping desert cloudscapes and ethnographic views of Native American life.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, his art was not commercially motivated and he had less of a tendency to romanticize his subjects.  That’s one of the reasons these cards are so interesting. What motivated Vroman to lend his images to this financially motivated project and what stories can we draw from them that will give us a better understanding of the world they depict?

The staff at the Logan has been very inspired by this simple deck of cards, and is planning on installing an exhibit exploring these and other questions next year. So get ready to sit down at the table and be amazed because you’ll want to see what we’ve got up our sleeves.