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Collectors collaborate on Native American exhibit at Kauffman Museum

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Two Newton-area collectors worked together on the newest special exhibit at Bethel College’s Kauffman Museum, “Pathways of Tradition: Native American Footwear, 1860-1930.”

John Torline, North Newton city administrator, and Keven Hiebert, who farms south of Goessel, share a mutual interest in American Indian history. Their knowledge, as well as personal collections amassed over the past 25 years, are featured in the “Pathways” exhibit.

Both men began collecting arrowheads at an early age. Hiebert says, “I roamed the fields after plowing to find arrowheads.” As a boy, he began making bows and arrows and learned how to do beadwork.

Torline found arrowheads along the banks of Sand Creek in Newton. Eager to learn more about prehistoric cultures, Torline eventually pursued graduate coursework in archeology at Wichita State University.

Torline and Hiebert first met at area auctions where they were bidding against each other on American Indian items. Torline says, “We decided to collaborate rather than compete and have been business partners now for 20 years. We buy and sell Indian art and ethnographic items to support our collecting habits.”

Over the years, Hiebert and Torline have actively supported Kauffman Museum. In 2001, Torline was guest curator for the exhibition “Walking in Beauty: Navajo Blankets and Rugs from Kansas Collections.” He also provided appraisals of Native American arts at Kauffman Museum’s Antiques To Go Show (1999-2004).

In the late 1980s, Hiebert worked on taxidermy specimens for the permanent “Prairie” exhibit. He has also provided programs and has brought his full-size tipi for the museum’s annual Celebrate Kansas Day activities.

The goal of the “Pathways” exhibition is to enrich community appreciation for American Indian cultures. Included in the display are moccasins, slippers and boots from Native American groups across North America, from the Arctic Circle to the Great Plains to the eastern woodlands.

The word “moccasin” comes from the Algonquian language family spoken by eastern woodlands Indians. It is now commonly used to refer to leather footwear made by any First Nations group. However, the shape, construction and decoration of moccasins can differ significantly and give clues to culture of origin as well as environmental and historical influences.

“Pathways” focuses on continuity and change in Native American cultures during the early reservation period. Moccasins show traditional decorative materials such as porcupine quills and yellow ochre as well as imported materials like glass beads, silk ribbon and embroidery.

To present the fullest range of forms and decorative materials seen in American Indian footwear, Kauffman Museum borrowed examples from private and public collections. On display are moccasins from Hiebert and Torline as well as from Robert Button of Great Bend, Issy Umscheid of Wichita, Ron Smithee of Harrah, Okla., and an anonymous collector. Museums lending to the exhibition include Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum in Arkansas City, Coronado-Quivira Museum in Lyons, the Lowell D. Holmes Museum of Anthropology at Wichita State University and the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas.

Kauffman Museum Director Rachel Pannabecker says, “The ‘Pathways’ project enables us to display important Native American artifacts from our study collection. In particular, we brought out Sioux items collected by Charles Kauffman, for whom our museum is named.”

Kauffman (1882-1961) grew up on a farm near Marion, S.D. He began his Sioux collection in the late 1920s – a time when most Americans believed that the traditional way of life was over for Native Americans. Collecting items created and used by American Indians was seen as a way to preserve their history.

Says Pannabecker, “Through the ‘Pathways’ project, we want to show our appreciation of Native American traditions and respect for the resilience of native peoples forced onto reservations in the mid 1800s.”

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri., and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the museum, which also includes admission to the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture,” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its Web site,

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