March 14, 2009 Abigail Seldin: "Flying with the Fourth Crow: A Reflection on Curating 'Fulfilling a Prophecy'"
 
     The desire to mount an exhibit on the Lenape came out of the Native Voices program of the Penn Museum, as well as the substantial Lenape collection of the Museum.  The exhibit found its true focus when Professor Robert Preucel was surprised to receive a request from the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania to borrow a traditional paddle for a ceremony, as the academic community has maintained that no Lenape remained in Pennsylvania by the close of the 18th century. Ms. Seldin, a curator of the planned exhibit, accompanied Dr. Pruecel, Keeper Lucy Fowler Williams, and Associate Keeper William Wierzbowski of the American Section to deliver this paddle to the Lenape group, in the Pocono Mountains.  While she was there, members of the Lenape Nation shared some of their history with Ms. Seldin. Once the undisputed lords of southeastern Pennsylvania, the Lenape disappear from the state history after their forcible removal westward in the 1700s. Recently, the direct descendants of Lenape women who intermarried with German settlers have made themselves known as the true inhabitants of Lenapehocking, the Lenape homelands. These Lenape-Germans have kept their ancestry a well-guarded secret, fearing the persecutions suffered by their contemporaries in the American Indian community. Yet, for more than two hundred years, the members of this lineage have faithfully upheld their Native traditions. Their history fascinated Ms. Seldin, who later met with the Tribal Council and asked for permission to research and set up an exhibit based on their experiences. Chief Robert Red Hawk Ruth and the others readily agreed.  Chief Ruth and Shelley DePaul, then Tribal Secretary, joined Seldin as Co-Curators of the exhibit, and other Lenape elders agreed to serve in an advisory capacity. The extraordinary stories of these Lenape-German women and their families are being shared for the first time in the exhibition.  Fulfilling a Prophecy is one of first exhibits to be co-curated by an anthropologist together with Native American representatives in the United States.
         The curators chose to tell the story of the Lenape in Pennsylvania through  The Prophecy of the Fourth Crow, as told by Robert Red Hawk Ruth, an ancient story passed down among the Lenape for generations:
Long ago it was said that a fox will be loosened on the earth. Also it was said four crows will come.
The first crow flew the way of harmony with Creator. The second crow tried to clean the world, but he became sick and he died. The third crow saw his dead brother and he hid. The fourth crow flew the way of harmony again with Creator. Caretakers they will live together on the earth. Chief Red Hawk summarized the current interpretation of the Prophecy in the following way:  The First Crow was the Lenape before the coming of the Europeans. The Second Crow symbolized the death and destruction of their culture. The Third Crow was the people going underground and hiding. The Fourth Crow was the Lenape becoming caretakers again and working with everybody to restore this land.  Each section of the exhibit represents one of these stages, and the display objects come from the collections and archives of the Museum, and from the households of members of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania.  
            Following her introductory talk, society members accompanied Ms. Seldin on a tour of the exhibit, where the prophecy was retold with Lenape artifacts, maps, and examples of handiwork of the hidden Lenape, A simple turkey track stitch, a mark on a fence post could serve to identify Lenape heritage to those who knew what to look for. Most poignant was the hand stitched doll, with a second face, hidden from view: a message from grandmother to granddaughter that their heritage must remain secret. The final section was most encouraging, displaying the Treaty of the Renewed Brotherhood and evidence of the revival of the Lenape language and cultural traditions among the Lenape of Lenapehoking. The exhibit will be on display until October, 2010. Be sure to visit it!
 
            Abigail Seldin will graduate in May from the University of Pennsylvania with both a bachelors and a masters degree in anthropology. Recently awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, she will begin her studies at the Oxford University Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology in the fall. While at the University of Pennsylvania, Seldin co-curated the exhibit Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania. The exhibit received significant local and national media attention, including major stories in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Indian Country Today, syndicated articles by Reuters and the Associated Press, and segments on Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate, WRTI-FM Radio, as well as various other TV and radio stations. Ms. Seldin has had extensive prior curatorial experience, having served as a Student Co-Curator of  University of Pennsylvania Museum: 120 Years Old in 2007,  and Trouble in Paradise: The Art of Polynesian Warfare, at the Penn Museum, and as a Curator of Pecos Pueblo: Crossroads of Culture, a permanent  exhibition at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology. Andover, MA. Ms. Seldin has participated in archaeological field projects in France, Egypt and the United States, and has published articles in Cultural Survival Quarterly, Expedition Magazine, and The Concord Review.

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