Dance mask from the Aztec Mestizo cultures

This dance mask is from the Aztec Mestizo cultures. It is a part of the Art of the Native Cultures of the Americas exhibit located in the Meyer Library Room 308.

In Duane G. Meyer Library, directly in front of the third floor elevators, lives a world of culture and art just waiting to be discovered. The open doors of room 306 invite the Missouri State University community to explore the vivid colors, intricate patterns and complex techniques of tapestries, ceramics and other artifacts belonging to the display of the Art of the Native Cultures of the Americas Exhibit. 

Beginning on Oct. 3, the Special Collections and Archives holds this educational exhibit from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, with the exception of university holidays. This showcase lasts until Jan. 17, and revolves around student research. 

Billie Follensbee, a professor in the Department of Art and Design, teaches both ART 385: Art of the Americas and ART 485: Art of MesoAmerica. Her students research ancient artifacts from the indigenous cultures of North America, Central America, South America, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.

“For their course research projects,” Follensbee said, “the students implement their studies of art and artifacts by helping to identify unresearched objects in collections that were loaned to us by small, local museums, institutions, and private individuals and/or objects donated to the Art and Design collections.”

Exhibits have been displayed in the library for 15 years, and this is the 8th year specifically of the Art of the Native Cultures of the Americas Exhibit.

 “My hope is that these annual, public exhibits of the student research will help the students, the university community and the local community to learn about the complex, sophisticated art and technologies developed by the Native cultures of the Americas and how these peoples have contributed a great cultural heritage to the present-day world,” Follensbee said. 

Either in glass prism cases or hanging on the wall, the student research is displayed next to each of the artifacts for the exhibit. After the exhibit, the student-researched exhibit texts will be compiled into the Art History Virtual Exhibit Blog.

 Follensbee said only the best student research is incorporated into a public educational exhibit in the Meyer Library; students must earn a B- or better on their final course project.

One student, Venita Williams, completed the research for the Chancay Doll and Ancient Andean Textiles Exhibit. Because there is a chance these dolls came from a gravesite, they lay beneath a black covering, so people have a choice of whether or not they want to view this particular artifact. 

“The ancient cultures often looted graves and recycled things at burial sites,” Williams said. While the actual dolls don’t represent anything pertaining to death, the exhibit is still careful not to offend Native American cultures by giving people a choice of whether or not they want to view these specific artifacts.

While none of this could be possible without the donors, the workers of Special Collections and Archives have the responsibility of actually laying out of the objects. There is one part-time and four full-time employees. Student employees help as well.

Head of Special Collections and Archives Anne Baker said they have improved much over the years regarding setting up and displaying the items.

“Once we have the artifacts and the students’ research, it takes us a little over a week to set it up,” said archivist Tracie Gieselman-Holthaus. She also said people on the project make sure to remain mindful when handling the artifacts; they make sure each object sees the proper care to satisfy its level of fragility.

Above all, Follensbee, Baker and Gieselman-Holthaus all said the students are the ones to thank for the exhibit, for it is their research and expertise that brings the ancient cultures to life.