Native American art to be auctioned, returned

By David Hotle, The JOURNAL


In the entire time she has been library director, Debbie Stanton had always tried to find a place for a collection of Native American artifacts the library possessed.

On Tuesday, the decision was made to auction some of the collection, keep some of the items for display in the library, and return many of the items to the tribes from where they originated. Stanton, who is traveling to Arizona next week and planning to deliver some of the artifacts, said she has been in contact with the tribes. She has learned that the artifacts will have a place of honor and several pieces, such as prayer boards, will actually be used.

?This has been very much ongoing and it is something I wanted to wrap up before I leave the directorship,? Stanton said.

Stanton told the council the collection was donated to the library in 1964 by a former Washington resident named

Emily Powls Simpson-Atmore. She lived at Halcyon House for eight years and died in 1968. She was the widow of Rev. William Simpson-Atmore who died in 1942. Stanton said she was from England and there is no information why she had retired in Washington.

A copy of Mrs. Simpson-Atmore?s obituary was in the Dec. 17, 1968 edition of The Washington Evening Journal. The obituary said she was a member of St. James Catholic Church and is buried in Elm Grove Cemetery. The obituary lists several nieces and nephews as survivors.

Stanton said the couple had traveled all though the south and southwest and had collected artifacts and several other items until the 1940s.

In 2011, with the help of a Humanities Iowa grant, Dr. Leona Zastrow did a study on how the artifacts from people who made it no further north than Arizona ended up in the Washington Public Library. Zastrow, an educator and appraiser from Santa Fe, N.M., worked with the artifacts, preparing an insurance appraisal of the collection for the library. She believes the Rev. Simpson-Atmore may have spent time working with Native Americans on a reservation and has made an educated guess that he may be buried on an Indian reservation. She also stressed many of the items were not the kind of thing that are collected, but rather everyday things and some which could have been handed down through generations of a family.

When Stanton assumed the directorship, one question the library board had for her was what could be done with the collection. The insurance rates had come back very high. Because of the value of the items and because they lacked a connection to Washington, it was determined the items shouldn?t just be left sitting on shelves.

?I have heard back from the Hopi tribe and they have sent a list of some items they would like repatriated to them,? Stanton said. ?They have the right to request those items back.?

She said the other items have already gone to Cedar Falls to be auctioned. Proceeds will go into the library gift account. She also said some of the items which the library will keep are items that have been appraised at a fairly low value.

?I would like to thank you for your thorough and respectful approach to this whole process,? Mayor Jaron Rosien said. ?You provided proper credit to the collector and the Native American tribes they belong to.?