The Museum Collections
The goal of the Museum is to hold and maintain the most comprehensive collection worldwide of modern Iroquois art dating from the 1960s to the present. In addition, we house and preserve extensive archaeological and representative historical collections. The collections continue to grow through acquisitions and gifts from the public, including Iroquois artists and collectors.
The Iroquois continue to maintain a strong presence in the Northeast and their artistic creations introduce the public to what they value most. The close relationship Iroquois have to the natural world is conveyed through basketry, antler carving, painting and other media.
A stone carving or clay sculpture communicates Iroquois values, humor, concerns, or thoughts about their future. The art is further influenced by a rich oral tradition and strong cultural continuity.
This comprehensive collection celebrates the ancient unity of the Iroquois still expressed in the common creative spirit of today's artists and craftspeople.
The Iroquois are famous in history as the most powerful and influential Native Americans in eastern North America. Their Confederacy of Six Nations, the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora, played a vital role in the development of North America, both before and after the arrival of European settlers.
After European arrival, the Iroquois became leaders in the fur trade and in selling land. Furs, such as beaver, raccoon, and martin were traded for such items as men’s ruffled shirts, ribbon, beads, knives, or brass kettles. When the fur trade ceased and their land base was drastically reduced, trade of utilitarian or decorative objects became essential to a firm economic base.
The Iroquois Museum specializes in researching the ethnohistory of the Schoharie Mohawk, with a large library of copies of original papers and records from the 1600s and 1700s. New trading markets, technologies, alliances, and religions affected the lives of Iroquois women and men. These materials are featured in our exhibits and programs and illustrate traditional longhouse and clan structures, crops, and political roles.
Modern Iroquois creative culture has grown out of ancient traditions in New York that can be traced back archeologically some 10,000 years. With an emphasis upon regional archeology, the Museum combines anthropological research with appreciation of contemporary sensitivities. The Museum's discovery of the home of the pre-Revolutionary Schoharie Mohawks and the oldest (9600 year-old) site in Schoharie County are particularly emphasized in the archeological exhibits.
One of the Museum's founding trustees was Jim Osterhout, an avocational archeologist since the early 1930s. As a member of the Van Epps-Hartley Chapter of the NY State Archeological Association, Jim met other important people in the study of archeology and Iroquois material culture.
Two important principles guided Jim's work -- sharing and being accurate. He stressed the importance of keeping records, surveying, and the double-checking of data. Jim kept topographic maps of all the known sites in Schoharie County and investigated new sites for anyone who called him. He kept watch on potential threats to archeological sites and believed that artifacts found in Schoharie County should stay in Schoharie County.
True to that conviction, Jim donated most of the material that he had found on the Enders and Cider Mill sites to the Schoharie County Historical Society and when the Iroquois Museum was formed in 1980, he donated the entirety of his remaining collection to the Museum. No other Schoharie County collection like his exists in any other institution. It is the achievement of his lifetime.
As Director of the Iroquois Museum' s Department of Archeology, Jim helped to establish certain rules: 1) All materials found on a site excavated by the Department belong to the Museum if so desired by the landowners. 2) All members of the Department, even when operating on their own, should operate with the highest archeological standards.
These are simple rules, but they represent some of Jim Osterhout's most deeply felt convictions.