Most of the intricately woven, uniquely designed baskets that made Tulsa artist Shan Goshorn internationally famous and once filled the workroom of the downtown home she shared with her husband, Tom Pendergraft, are long gone.
“They’ve all been bought out,” Pendergraft said. “Almost all of them are in museums now. There are a few heirlooms that I still have.
Goshorn, a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, worked in a variety of media, including photography and painting, before beginning to combine traditional Cherokee weaving techniques with her passionate activism for Native American rights. She created baskets of archival paper, on which everything from historical documents to photographs were printed, to create objects of beauty that also contained scathing social commentary.
Her work was featured in group shows and solo shows across the country before her death in December 2018. In 2021, the Gilcrease Museum created an exhibit that showcased Goshorn’s work and her influence on other Indigenous female artists , titled “Weaving History into Art: The Enduring Legacy of Shan Goshorn.
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A year before Goshorn’s death, she pledged most of the research material she had accumulated for her work, along with a selection of personal papers, notebooks and photographs, to the National Museum of the American Indian in the Smithsonian Institution.
Last week, Rachel Menyuk, an NMAI Processing Archivist, came to Tulsa to begin the process of cataloging and transporting the Goshorn Archive to the museum.
Goshorn had a long relationship with the National Museum of the American Indian. In 2013, she received an Artist Fellowship from the Smithsonian to research some of the historic materials for her baskets. The museum also has several Goshorn baskets.
“Most people who come to a museum see the items on display and may not have any idea of all the archival material associated with those items,” Menyuk said. “But archival records are vitally important because they provide the context for any given object, so we can better understand not just how an object was created, but why.”
Menyuk said she visited Tulsa in 2016, accompanied by one of the museum’s curators, to get a taste of what Goshorn had to offer at the museum.
“I remember Shan and I both laughed when one of them – I think it was Rachel – opened one of the filing cabinet drawers and said, ‘Oh, you have to come and see this. – everything is alphabetical! ‘” Pendergraft said.
“I’ve worked with a lot of archives where they pretty much dumped everything into boxes and shipped it out,” Menyuk said. “That’s why I get a little excited when I work with someone as organized as Shan.”
Goshorn’s meticulous record keeping was underscored when Menyuk discovered a folder on this trip titled “Facebook Posts”, which contained impressions of posts Goshorn had shared on social media during Menyuk’s previous visit.
It’s objects like this, Menyuk said, that show how archives are not the stereotypical collection of dusty books and yellowing papers, but a way to keep a creative spirit alive.
“We are dealing with an individual’s life’s work,” she said. “And what makes it really special is that it allows you to show all aspects of a person’s life and work – the things they did and the things that were going through their head when she made them. It helps tell a complete story about that person and their art.
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