The Spiro and the Art of the Mississippian World exhibition at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum lets families look into the world of archeology using art as their lens. While there are certainly exquisitely beautiful pieces to see, the collection tells an enduring story of humanity and a history that has been largely untold.
While you’ve likely heard of the Mayan, Aztec or Inca cultures, the Spiro people and the Mississippian cultures of eastern North America have nearly been forgotten, even though their community and cultures were just as advanced. The Spiro Mounds archeology site, in eastern Oklahoma, is the largest source of Mississippian artifacts ever found in a single discovery. Thousands of objects were brought to the site, some from thousands of miles away. The artifacts on display in this exhibition note how far each piece traveled before ending up at Spiro, suggesting the location was an influential religious and cultural center.
And that is where an ancient mystery begins. Why did all of these precious pieces end up in one place?
In part, the mystery of Spiro Mounds has been increased by looting and the resulting dispersal of the artifacts. Reunification efforts have been years in the making, aided by the support of Spiroan descendants including Caddoean, Wichita and other affiliated tribes. We now have the opportunity to better understand this important piece of early American history and see these precious antiquities reunited.
Together, the beautiful pieces shape a unique story and offer a connection and depth to our continent’s distant past that has been missing from our commonly told history.
To round out the exhibition, modern-day Indigenous artists showcase common threads and influences of the artistry of the Spiro people, creating a beautiful illustration of what was not lost from the once-thriving culture.
Given the significance of this endeavor, there is a lot to take in as you might expect and the exhibition offers several ways to interact with the artifacts and historical information. Informational pieces and maps introduce you to the Spiro people and explain the cultural significance and continuing impact of the looting. Kids can get hands-on with books, art activities like weaving, virtual reality and artifact puzzles that turn complex topics into play.
If I had one piece of advice for your visit to the Spiro exhibit, go soon with your family and then go again! There is just so much to experience and an opportunity of the magnitude will only be here until May 9, 2021.
Bonus: The museum is hosting a Perked-Up Playdate on April 20 from 10 a.m. – noon. The playdate would be a great time to see the exhibition and the museum’s other attractions like Prosperity Junction and Liichokoshomo. They’ll have a special playtime with refreshments and crafts, while supplies last. Or, stop in on May 1 for their monthly Kids Take Over The Cowboy event where kids can become explorers as they make their own binoculars and learn how to use a compass. Both events and the exhibition are free with admission.
Admission is $12.50 for adults, $5.75 for kids ages 6 to 12 and free for kids 5 and under. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
The Spiro and the Art of the Mississippian World has been made possible in part by major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Henry Luce Foundation, as well as support from the Kirkpatrick Foundation.