Nothing is so immediately ruinous to such [collections] as that they be dispersed or scattered over several areas of physical location or administrative authority. Once such an occurrence takes place there is vast professional experience to indicate the likelihood of almost instantaneous disintegration.- Museum of the Menninger Foundation, 1967
Museum collections fill both emblematic and practical roles in the lives of collectors. They are embedded with stories about why objects are collected and reflect biographical moments in the life of a collection. Collections represent both the collector’s objectives and social networks of relationships that exist between collectors, scholars, communities, institutions, and museums. The disintegration of a collection often involves the dispersal of its material objects, but these immaterial stories, embedded within collections, are usually forgotten.
Dr. Karl Menninger (1893-1990) was a pioneer in American psychoanalysis. The Menninger family was described as embodying a “missionary” spirit and undertook mental health reform, establishing a world-renowned mental health clinic in Topeka, Kansas. Dr. Karl, as he was often called, was also a collector of indigenous art. He founded the Museum of the Menninger Foundation (MMF) where objects were collected, interpreted, and displayed to reflect practical applications. Emblematically, the collection sheds light on Dr. Karl’s upbringing within an environment that fostered an interest in Native Americans. Practically, the collection represents Dr. Karl’s application of indigenous art to psychoanalytic practices, including museum therapy, professional education, and medicine.
This display reconstructs and contextualizes the Menninger Collection, presenting objects that reflect Dr. Karl’s work with Native American communities, his social network of collectors, and themes that guided the collection, interpretation, and exhibition of these objects.
This project, informed by research and interviews conducted for a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, was undertaken by Braden Conrad-Hiebner, a global indigenous art intern for the Spencer Museum’s curatorial department. Conrad-Hiebner is a graduate student in the Museum Studies and Anthropology departments.