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Chamber article from 1929 helps St. Joseph museum locate Native American pictograph

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Given that it’s been in print for more than 90 years, there have certainly been a few misprints in Missouri Business — the official magazine of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

But one mistake that happened back in 1929 proved to be an important missing link that has helped a St. Joseph museum locate two priceless Native American pictographs that have been missing from its collection for 60 years.

An August 1929 article in the magazine described a Native American pictograph being displayed at the state capitol. The article included a photo of the pictograph and said it was on loan from the collection of the late Harry L. George, a St. Joseph collector.

The magazine story describes a pictograph that illustrates the Battle of Little Big Horn. However, the photo shown in the magazine didn’t match the story. It was likely a mistake, but one that would turn out to be a lucky occurrence.

Today, the George collection is part of the Saint Joseph Museums. Retired obstetrician Dr. Bob Corder has spent years at the museum researching the collection.

When he found the 1929 Missouri Chamber article, Dr. Corder saw the picture and realized that the artwork depicted in the photo — the one printed by mistake — was missing from the museum’s collection.

The discovery of the missing pictographs led Dr. Corder and the museum to begin searching for the artwork.

Dr. Corder reached out to retired U.S. Army Col. Rodney Thomas, a pictograph expert who lives in Seattle. Col. Thomas was able to find a friend who recalled seeing the pictographs at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

After months of looking, the pictographs were found at the Nelson-Atkins. They had been loaned to the Nelson-Atkins for an exhibit, along with other works, in 1961. The other works were returned to St. Joseph in 1962, but the pictographs remained in the care of the Nelson-Atkins until recently.

“We are delighted that after 60 years, the piece, which has been so well taken care of by the Nelson-Atkins, will return to the Saint Joseph Museum to be displayed and enjoyed by our visitors,” said Sara Wilson, Executive Director of the Saint Joseph Museums, in a news release.

Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins, said the Nelson-Atkins was also delighted.

“This is a testament to the friendship shared by our institutions, and an excellent example of museum collegiality,” Zugazagoitia said.

Dr. Corder hopes that bringing the pictographs back to St. Joseph will allow them to be better studied and understood. Today, it’s not clear exactly what they depict and there is debate about who created it.

But make no mistake, it’s re-arrival in St. Joseph should help lead to answers.

Read more from our previous article about the search for the pictographs.

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