Left to right in the display cases: Millennium Dreams, Archive, and Fur Robe, Collectors Edition
Millennium Dreams, Archive, and Fur Robe, Collectors Edition stem from the phenomenon of object displacement caused by collectors. In my mind, the voracious collecting of Beanie Babies is not unlike the collecting of historical Tlingit objects. In the 1990s, Beanie Babies™ caused a frenzy for children and adults. The plush toys were swooped up and hoarded by adult collectors, making it hard for kids - the intended audience of the stuffed bears - to find and love their own Beanie Baby. At the height of their popularity, Beanies were collected via secondhand markets, store releases, and website sales. Beanie Babies were the driving factor behind the growth of eBay, which benefited from the Ty Company’s policy of “retiring” certain Beanies, thus creating even more demand in online auctions.
Ebay users regularly buy and sell historic Indigenous artifacts from many different tribes, even though historic Indigenous pieces were acquired through theft, grave robbing and coercion. Although Tlingit people were the intended owners of these works, because of the frenzy of collectors Tlingit access to these objects has been severely limited, while private collectors and scattered, far-away museums ended up with the majority of the objects. Whether the objects are Beanie Babies or ancient clan pieces, they were purchased out from under the feet of the intended owners.
At first glance, this grouping is a lighthearted critique of collecting. It’s a visual representation of the oddity of historical collections removed from their context. Beanie Babies are nostalgic, humorous and relatable, but bring a darker theme of collecting into focus. The feverish and insatiable quest to collect Beanie Babies meant that children had a hard time finding the toys, just as the equally feverish quest to collect Tlingit sacred items has led to this point, where human remains and sacred objects are housed in museum collections, far away from their home communities, their intended context.
The works are not historic objects. They would not be recognized as Tlingit art. They are not toys. They are a mixture, they don’t belong to any realm, they are stuck in a purgatory of displacement.
— Special thanks to PhD Miranda Belarde-Lewis for editing this statement.