Provenance: Harry Innes; by gift to Thomas Jefferson in 1790; by gift to the American Philosophical Society in 1791; by transfer to the National Museum of the American Indian
Historical Notes: In 1790 Harry Innes renewed his "slight acquaintance" with Jefferson by sending him this statue. He wrote that it had been found five or six inches below the surface of the ground by a farmer plowing near the Cumberland River:
It is the Image carved of Stone of a naked Woman kneeling; it is roughly executed, but from the coarseness of the Stone the instrument with which it was probably carved and its antiquity I think shews the maker to have had some talent in that way, the design being good.1
Innes hoped to search the site where the statue was found for evidence of habitation to help determine its age. Jefferson was pleased with Innes's gift:
It is certainly the best piece of workmanship I ever saw from their [Indian] hands. If the artist did not intend it, he has very happily hit on the representation of a woman in the first moments of parturition.2
Jefferson presented the statue to the American Philosophical Society in 1791, and it was recorded in their proceedings as a "curious piece of Indian sculpture representing an Indian woman in labor, found near Cumberland, Va."3 Although Jefferson believed the statue depicted a woman in labor, the kneeling position was a typical ceremonial posture for both females and males of high status during the Mississippian period.4
1. Harry Innes to Jefferson, July 8, 1790, in PTJ, 17:20. Transcription available at Founders Online.
2. Jefferson to Innes, March 7, 1791, in PTJ, 19:521-22. Transcription available at Founders Online.
3.Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, XXII, part 3 (1885), 196, cited in PTJ, 17:20n. Editorial note available at Founders Online.
4. Jay A. Levenson, ed., Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1991), 584; Thomas M.N. Lewis, "Stone Images," Tennessee Archaeologist 4, 1 and 2 (1948): 66-67; Jefferson Chapman, Director, Frank H. McClung Museum, Knoxville, Tennesse, to Ann Lucas, May 4, 1992; Wanda Lawson, Historian, Etowah Indian Mounds, to Ann Lucas, April 1992; Kit Wesler, Director, Wickliffe Mounds Research Center, to Ann Lucas, April 21, 1992.