Dr. Darrell Beauchamp, executive director of the Museum of Western Art in Kerrville, said the exhibited collection from the family of Walter Schreiner is the culmination of a lifetime of Schreiner collecting Native American artifacts.
“His family told me Walter would go with his father, Charlie III, to such places as New Mexico, Arizona and West Texas, and look for items to add to his collection, over the years. And he continued to add to this collection after his father passed away,” Beauchamp said.
“About two years ago, after Walter died, I started visiting with Teri Schreiner about displaying these items.”
Teri Schreiner spoke to the crowd attending the opening reception for the “Walter Schreiner Family Native American Collection,” and said Walter would go on hunting trips with his father, Charlie III, some of them to New Mexico. And wherever they traveled, Walter would also look for Native American reservations or other sites he could visit on the way.
She said that included the Jicarilla Reservation he used to talk about.
“He told me when he was eight to 10 years old, he visited a Native American chief with Charlie in the 1960s, and the chief let him wear his feathered headdress and then gave it to him. That started it for Walter, I think; and after that he started collecting more arrowheads and guns and Western memorabilia,” she said.
“We displayed it in our home in cases, and all around the house. We had Indian blankets on a bench and moccasins on a shelf.”
She said when she started talking to Beauchamp in 2019 about such an exhibit, she and a daughter gathered up almost all the Native American items at their home and took them to MOWA.
“This was so positive for the family and in Walter’s honor. We were blown away by the response,” she said. “I consider it art, considering all of the Indians’ creativity in making those things. And we have a varied cross-section of items, a lot of variety of pieces. I think they were dated starting in the 1840s.”
She said, “After Charlie III got him started, they collected guns together and they traded some for Western memorabilia. He kept on with the arrowheads, though. He was a boy in San Antonio, but he spent summers at the Schreiner ranches.”
Beauchamp said there are more than 100 Native American items in the resulting exhibit in one of MOWA’s galleries, including nine Native American woven rugs, mostly created by Navaho tribe members.
In addition to the rugs, the exhibit includes rifle scabbards, bow and arrow quivers, saddle blankets, pipe bags, moccasins, some articles of clothing, and “totem” or religious items, and umbilical cord stash bags.
Each item or small group of items is labeled with its proper item name, its tribe and general location of origin, approximate date, and in most cases short notes of explanation, for the museum visitors’ education.
The beaded cloth saddle bag was identified as that item by the slits through the outer layer of rectangular fabric, one close to either end, that created pockets in which the owner could carry small items as he rode his horse.
The umbilical cord pouches are identified as being of Sioux origin, a tribe that believed preservation of that cord in a sealed buckskin pouch after a baby’s birth helped protect that child as he or she grew into an adult. The displayed pouches are dated about 1880 and after, and the buckskin was then decorated with Czech beads.
Beauchamp said by the 1870-80s, beads from Czechoslovakia were being brought into North America and used in trading with the Native Americans. Now, to experts, they are an aid in dating such items because they are recognizable by their shape and colors.
In comparison, on a pipe bag made of buckskin and linen and dated 1840, the colored turtle design on one side is made from porcupine quills stained in various colors with natural plants or even blood for the red color, he said.
One unusual item they are displaying is a “toe tag” from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Wyoming Territory, that would have been used to identify a corpse.
Beauchamp said the Schreiner family brought almost all of the collection they had at home; and he and the museum staff had every piece cleaned and preserved according to museum practices.
“The very first step is placing each item in a large plastic bag and freezing them for a day or two,” Beauchamp said. “That kills any bugs or other ‘organics’ that might be on or in the items. We don’t want to let silverfish or any bugs like that into the museum.”
The next step is carefully cleaning each piece with a small specialized vacuum cleaner. Then all three-dimensional items, such as moccasins, get “fillers” of museum-quality tissue paper, so they are displayed in their real shapes.
“Then last September, we had a visiting appraiser from the International Society of Appraisers who came to look at every piece, for insurance purposes for both MOWA and the Schreiner family,” he said.
“And after that we brought in an expert on Native American artifacts. That expert examined everything item by item, looking at the beading and craftsmanship, and helped us with terminology to make the information tags we posted with each item, for the education of visitors.”
Beauchamp and his staff laid out the exhibit and installed pieces on the walls and in display cases.
“We’re very pleased to honor Walter and his collection,” Beauchamp said. “There are 20 Native American tribes represented; and the collection includes items for children and adults.”
He said Walter Schreiner had some, but not all, items identified; and their visiting expert identified some of the them.
The tribes represented include the Crow, Cheyenne, Sioux, Apache, Canadian Cree, Comanche, Navajo, Kiowa, Arapaho, and others.
“This is something unique and different for our summer museum traffic,” Beauchamp said. “The exhibit will be on display until Sept. 17, for 12 weeks total.
“We’re pleased to have it; and hope people enjoy it,” he said.
Beauchamp’s personal favorites are three of the Navajo rugs, especially one with a “swastika” design in the center. Visitors should read the ID tag for more information, but Beauchamp said the original four-armed design was Native American, a peace symbol for them as long as it was “squared” vertically and horizontally, and the arms were pointing left.
He said the Nazis in the 1930s stole the design and skewed its position to a diagonal, arms pointing right, to use as a symbol of their cause and party.
The public is invited to the Museum of Western Art to view the new exhibit featuring a collection of Native American artifacts.
A reception on July 7 highlighted the “Walter Schreiner Family Native American Collection;” and was attended by about 150 people.
The MOWA art galleries are located at 1550 State Highway 173; and regular gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Call (830) 896-2553 for information.
The Walter Schreiner collection of old and new Native American treasures is on display in one gallery of the art museum; and will remain on exhibit through Sept. 17.
The reception the evening of July 7 was its official opening.
Next up, and related in subject matter, is a Native American Flute Workshop by Eva Koll, now of Kerrville. The workshop will be held Saturday, July 17, from 2 to 4 p.m. Call ahead or walk in.