July 25, 2014
A month ago, Karol Lawson surveyed the trunk of her Volkswagon Jetta and judged its contents — carefully packed in clean white boxes wedged among quilted blankets — ready for a journey of more than 1,000 miles. Though she didn’t know it then, in two days’ time a man from the Quapaw Tribe of Indians would sweep a frying pan filled with smoldering hickory, red oak and cedar over the emptied trunk, fanning the smoke with an eagle feather.
If the smoking custom was unknown to Lawson, director of the Sweet Briar Art Collection and Galleries, she understood very well the cultural significance of her cargo. She drove to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to repatriate funerary objects excavated in 1932 from the Nodena archaeological site in Mississippi County, Ark., and donated to the College. The boxes contained 10 ceramic bottles, jars and bowls once buried with human remains.
The items likely predate European contact with the ancestors of the people known today as the Quapaw — making the ceramics at least 400 years old. Lawson carried them into her hotel room each night for safekeeping.