There was a time when arrowheads were easy to find in fields throughout Indiana (after all, the name literally means “land of Indians”). As a result a lot of people collected them—and when the museum’s founders asked for items to include in its collection, some collectors gave arrowheads. Now Native American artifacts—not only arrowheads, but Hopi kachina dolls, Inuit clothing and tools, a Cheyenne war bonnet, and an infant cradleboard—are among the items that make up the Cultural World Collection.
From the start, the museum has collected and exhibited objects from different time periods, peoples, and cultures. Among its earliest donations were a Precolumbian Inca jar and a 19th-century Zuni water pot. Those were followed by traditional Dutch costumes, and later by items from Germany, Japan, China, Poland, Russia, and elsewhere. To ensure the authenticity of Take Me There: Egypt®, curators traveled to Cairo to acquire contemporary Egyptian objects.
The Collection Today
Today the World Cultures Collection contains 48,000 objects representing ancient, traditional, and contemporary cultures throughout the world. The collection is actually organized into three areas: the Ethnographic Collection; the Textile Collection; and the Caplan Collection of Folk, Fantasy, and Play.
Nearly 14,000 objects strong, this collection represents every continent, several eras, and a variety of cultures. Broad and diverse, it includes a wooden tomb figure from the time of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I (1290–1279 B.C.), a Hawaiian chief's helmet from the 19th century, a Japanese friendship doll given to American schoolchildren during a doll exchange between the United States and Japan in 1927–1928, Inuit objects collected by medical missionaries in Alaska between 1927 and 1928, and cliff tomb figures from 20th-century Indonesia.
The textile collection consists of approximately 2,500 objects from different peoples and cultures around the world. It includes clothing worn every day and on special occasions, folk costumes, and accessories. Objects were made using a variety of materials and techniques, including hand and loom weaving, dying, printing, embroidery, beading, metalwork, leatherwork, fiberwork, and quilting.
Among the highlights are a late 19th-century woman’s ribbonwork blanket from the Osage people of the Great Plains; a suit of Samurai armor from Edo Period (1615–1868 A.D.) Japan; an egungun dance garment from the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria; a pair of auklet bird skin parkas from the St. Lawrence Island Yupik peoples in Alaska; a ceremonial owl dance garment and mask from Guerrero, Mexico; and a story quilt depicting the emigrant travels of Hmong refugees living in Minnesota.
The Caplan Collection of Folk, Fantasy, and Play
In 1985 Frank and Theresa Caplan, cofounders of the Creative Playthings toy company and experts in childhood development, gave the museum their collection of 50,000 toys, dolls, games, and folk art from more than 120 countries.
Originally the basis for the museum’s Passport to the World exhibit (1986–2008), the collection includes folk art by such internationally renowned artists as the Linaresand Aguilar families (Mexico), Sammy Cordova (New Mexico), Delbert Buck and Dorothy Trujillo (Navajo and Cochiti Pueblo respectively, New Mexico), and Käthe Kruse (Germany); coffins in the shape of a mother hen with chicks and a tennis shoe created by two well-known coffin-making workshops in Ghana, West Africa; a three-dimensional Korean dream quilt; a raven transformation mask from the Kwakiutl peoples of British Columbia; shadow puppets and rod puppets from Indonesia; and toys and folk art made from recycled materials. Since the closing of Passport to the World, objects from The Caplan Collection of Folk, Fantasy, and Play have been used in many other exhibits throughout the museum, including Playscape, Take Me There: Egypt and its successive exhibit, Take Me There China (opening in 2014).