IACA Journal Fall 2015 - page 3

THE PEARSON COLLECTION: PRESERVING THE ART OF
CRADLEBOARDS
By George Pearson, IACA Collector
Member
Growing up in Ruidoso, New Mexico
does not in itself make a collector of Na-
tive American arts and crafts, but it can
kindle a lifelong interest in another cul-
ture when you realize that Ruidoso bor-
ders the Mescalero Apache Indian Reser-
vation. In the Ruidoso school system
many Mescalero Apaches were class-
mates of George and Chris Pearson.
After graduating from college and set-
tling in Rifle, western Colorado, George
operated an insurance agency and Chris
taught sixth grade language arts in the
local school system. Now retired,
George is on the local museum board
and Chris is the President of the local
school board.
The Pearson’s became interested in col-
lecting Native American arts and crafts
in the late 1960s, especially items related
to the Apache culture. One of the items
they became particularly interested in
were Apache cradleboards, in all their
various forms. This initial interest in
cradleboards became a study and collec-
tion of hundreds of cradles from many
and various Native American tribes and
is the mainstay of the Pearson collection.
The collection is in no way limited to just
cradleboards as it also includes South-
western pottery, specializing in wedding
vases from almost all of the Pueblo
tribes, Navajo rugs and looms from min-
iature to room size, Apache burden bas-
kets, infant and children’s moccasins,
Apache dancer dolls, and other Native
American arts and crafts. The Pearson’s
daughters, Kelly & Kasey fondly (or not
so fondly) recall vacation trips spent on
various reservations throughout the
Southwest going from trading post to
trading post.
Cradleboards have been a part of most
Native American cultures; they have
been found in dry caves in the southwest
and have been dated as thousands of
years old. The Anasazi culture cradle-
boards are very similar to the cradle-
boards still in use by the Havasupai in the
Grand Canyon. They have been docu-
mented in use by native tribes by many
early explorers: Lewis and Clark’s journals
mention the cradleboard that Sacagawea
used during their exploration, and they
even noted that several times during the
exploration the child’s cradleboard had
been swept away during river accidents
with the boats.
George Catlin painted them as part of his
documentation of many eastern tribes, and
Edward S. Curtis photographed them in
use in his early documentation of Native
American cultures.
No two cradleboards are alike: the person-
ality of the maker, the tribal culture, the
available native materials, and the environ-
ment, all shape and modify cradleboard
design. But all cradleboards have one
thing in common, and that is to protect the
child. From the large shade hoods of the
Southwest and California tribes, to the
wicker cradles of the Hopi and the beaded
cradles of the Kiowa, all are cultural art
forms that were made to protect and shelter
their children.
Cradleboards historically and currently are
made in a number of sizes. They range
from full size (36 to 45 inches) which will
hold an infant up to the age of walking,
newborn infant size (from 24 to 30 inches),
doll size (from 15 to 20 inches), miniature
doll size (from 12 to 15 inches), and minia-
ture (from 4 to 12 inches).
Many of the smaller cradles were made as
children’s toys and to teach children how
to make the culture’s cradleboards. Unfor-
tunately, with modern child restraint laws
and modern forms of the cradleboard, such
as baby carriers, available in every national
chain store, the making of traditional cra-
dleboards is becoming a lost item in many
Native American cultures.
The Pearson’s hope that by collecting cra-
dleboards and other Native American arts
and crafts they could have an influence on
keeping the art and culture of Native
Americans vibrant, and to keep alive the
skills needed in making these cradleboards.
They encourage collectors to become mem-
bers of the Indian Arts & Crafts Associa-
tion and to follow their interest, whatever it
may be, in these and other beautiful Native
American items.
Whether it be the purchase of one item or
hundreds, every collector can contribute to
keeping Native American arts and crafts
alive and growing.
Volume 4, Issue 2
Page 3
Collector George Pearson has a special passion for collecting cradleboards
1,2 4
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