Container Depicting the Cosmological Universe and on the Underside Two Thunderbirds

Unknown people (Woodlands)
Great Lakes Woodlands


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about 1800

Birch bark, wood, spruce root, twine (added later)

Overall: 8 11/16 × 8 1/4 × 6 1/8 in. (22 × 21 × 15.5 cm)

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: Museum Purchase



Place Made: Wisconsin area, United States, North America


19th century

Object Name

Personal Gear: Box

Research Area

Native American

Native American: Woodlands

Not on view


The objects in this case reference communal and spiritual relationships with the land and particular places. They also demonstrate how these relationships are both expressed through and shaped by creative forms and conventions. More specifically, these items serve as mnemonic devices and are encoded with important cultural knowledge tied to specific sites within the physical and spiritual landscape. For example, although the O’odham plaque and the Hopi wedding basket have culturally specific designs, both represent maps of life marked by twists and turns or peaks and valleys.

The birch bark container was made over two centuries ago within the Woodlands region, or the areas surrounding the Great Lakes, and features abstract imagery referencing the cosmological universe of the Above World and Beneath or Underworld. While humans, plants, and animals occupy the Middle World, supernatural beings—like the thunderbirds depicted on the bottom of this container—occupy spiritual spaces but are also able to interact with humans and exert power over the natural world.

What do these objects suggest about the makers’ knowledge and understanding of the environments in which they were created?

From the 2022 exhibition This Land: American Engagement with the Natural World,  curated by Jami C. Powell, Curator of Indigenous Art; Barbara J. MacAdam, former Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art; Thomas H. Price, former Curatorial Assistant; Morgan E. Freeman, former DAMLI Native American Art Fellow; and Michael Hartman, Jonathan Little Cohen Associate Curator of American Art

Course History

ANTH 75, Ecology, Culture, and the Environment, Deborah Nichols, Fall 2012

ANTH 3, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Sienna Craig, Summer 2013

REL 1, Patterns of Religious Experience, Elizabeth Perez, Fall 2013

WRIT 7 , Religion and Literature: Re-visioning the Natural, Nancy Crumbine, Spring 2015

ANTH 11/NAS 11, Ancient Native Americans, Deb Nichols, Winter 2019

ANTH 7.05, Animals and Humans, Laura Ogden, Winter 2022

GEOG 31.01, Postcolonial Geographies, Erin Collins, Winter 2022

ANTH 50.05, Environmental Archaeology, Madeleine McLeester, Winter 2022

ANTH 50.05, Environmental Archaeology, Madeleine McLeester, Winter 2022

ARTH 5.01, Introduction to Contemporary Art, Mary Coffey and Chad Elias, Winter 2022

ANTH 3.01, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Chelsey Kivland, Summer 2022

ANTH 3.01, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Chelsey Kivland, Summer 2022

SPAN 65.15, Wonderstruck: Archives and the Production of Knowledge in an Unequal World, Silvia Spitta and Barbara Goebel, Summer 2022

Exhibition History

Native American Art at Dartmouth: Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, October 8, 2011-March 12, 2012.

The Arts of Native America, The Eastern Woodland: Algonkian and Iroquois, Dartmouth College Museum and Galleries, Anthropology and History Collections, East Gallery, Wilson Hall, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, March 6-November 11, 1979.

The Tradition Continues: Native American Art from New England Collections, Smith College Museum of Art, North Hampton, Massachusetts, March 10-May 29, 1994.

This Land: American Engagement with the Natural World, Rush Family Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 5–July 22, 2022.

Publication History

Jane C. Beck, Always in Season: Folk Art and Traditional Culture in Vermont, Montpelier, Vermont: Vermont Council on the Arts, 1982, 144 pp., ill. p. 63.

George P. Horse Capture, Sr., Joe D. Horse Capture, Joseph M. Sanchez, et al., Native American Art at Dartmouth: Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art, Hanover: Trustees of Dartmouth College, 2011, ill. on p. 112,116,118 and p. 174, no. 148.


Purchased in the Midwest (said to have come from Vermont) by Edward C. Fales (1900-1985), book dealer, Salisbury, New Hampshire; sold to present collection, November 26, 1963.

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