New Pocahontas exhibit explores woman's life, myths

csearcy@vagazette.com

A Pocahontas exhibit opening this summer at Jamestown Settlement aims to make sure the past is still present for tourists and locals alike.

The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation is creating a special exhibit, "Pocahontas Imagined," that will feature memorabilia, interactive experiences, her impression on pop culture and art.

The exhibit opening July 15 comes 400 years after the death of Pocahontas, and a few months after a delegation from Virginia visited Gravesend, England where Pocahontas died.

Some of the trip's participants toured the new Pocahontas exhibit on Tuesday at Jamestown.

Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe chief Ken Adams, Rappahannock chief Anne Richardson, Chickahominy chief Stephen Adkins Sr., were among the trip's participants.

"They recognize her as an important figure and that led to how they feel about Virginia Indians," said Adkins of the English ceremony commemorating Pocahontas' death. "They treated us like royalty."

Ellen LeCompete, who also visited England, explained how Pocahontas is viewed in Virginia.

"Here in Virginia, the home of Pocahontas, she's often a mere footnote in an overlooked history or an exaggerated character in a Disney film," she said. "The story of Pocahontas is not just a narrative of a young girl who travels to Europe; it's much larger than that. It's a story of an indigenous people who have been marginalized."

Director of programs and partnership Pam Pettengell said correctly portraying Pocahontas is important, especially in an area where her native Powhatan Tribe had lived.

The exhibit depicts Pocahontas as a Powhatan Indian girl, who transforms into a symbol of successful colonization. After her death, her name evoked myths and her likeness was used to sell goods and services.

"In history there have been many brave women; Boadicea, Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, Golda Meir, Rosa Parks. All of them amazing for taking on what no female had done before. But to my mind, they all pale in comparison to the extraordinary bravery of Pocahontas," LeCompete said.

Adkins believes there are different avenues Jamestown could incorporate to bring attention to Pocahontas.

"I think Jamestown could increase its vistiorship if we talked more or if we put additional emphasis on the Virginia Indian side of the Jamestown experience," he said. "I think we can do more if we actually go back and examine the social life of the Indians in that area and how they were regarded."

Adkins added: "I think there are ways that we can fill in the gap that history books didn't record."

Pocahontas Imagined

Where: Jamestown Settlement, state Route 31 near the Colonial Parkway in James City County.

When: July 15 to Jan. 28, 2018.

'Pocahontas Imagined' Lecture Series

"Pocahontas Imagined" will feature a public lecture series in partnership with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The free lectures begin at 7 p.m. in Jamestown Settlement's Robins Foundation Theater:

Sept. 5: "Pocahontas in Image and Myth" – Karen Sherry, Art Historian and former Curator of American Art for the Portland Museum of Art in Maine and Associate Curator of Art at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

Sept. 13: "Reel Indian: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Film" – Jeffrey Allison, Paul Mellon Collection Educator and Statewide Manager, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Oct. 3: "Corrective Lens: Native Women Photographers and the Debunking of the 'Vanishing Race' Myth" – Johanna Minich, Adjunct Curator of Native American Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Advance reservations are recommended by calling 253-4572 or emailing rsvp@jyf.virginia.gov.

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