The Indian Hall

View of Monticello's Entrance Hall looking toward Jefferson's BedchamberThe Expedition was central to Jefferson's acquisition of his important collection of Native American objects. Jefferson showcased these and the natural history specimens that Lewis and Clark sent him in his newly completed double-story Entrance Hall at Monticello, which he called his "Indian Hall." Placed among the other goods Jefferson collected -- European paintings and sculptures, works of art from eastern Indians, a model of an Egyptian pyramid, mastodon bones excavated by William Clark in Kentucky following the Expedition, and maps of the vicinity and the world -- the western objects contributed to the mélange of objects that Jefferson hoped would demonstrate to his family and visitors the diversity of the world beyond Monticello. His objective in creating his museum was to place himself and Monticello within the context of this larger world.

Image of Buffalo hide with war scene pictographs hanging from Entrance Hall balcIn assembling such a "cabinet of curiosities," Jefferson was in good company, both historically and intellectually. Since the sixteenth century, European collections of animal specimens, ethnographic material, antiquities, and man-made items displaying great technical skill had been accumulated by people ranging from kings and aristocrats to scholars of modest means.

As a product of the Enlightenment, Jefferson's display represented not simply a desire to showcase the marvelous and bizarre, but to work towards a scientific understanding of the world through observation and study. In the Indian Hall, Jefferson sought to demonstrate, visually, that the products of North America could take their places alongside those of the Old World.

Elizabeth V. Chew
Associate Curator of Collections, Monticello
December 2002

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