History of the Antelope Valley Indian Museum

Published on August 6, 2014 by Amy

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History of the Antelope Valley Indian Museum
History of the Antelope Valley Indian Museum

Howard Arden Edwards, a self-taught artist, became enchanted with the desert scenery around the buttes while visiting the Antelope Valley. He homesteaded 160 acres on Piute Butte and in 1928, Edwards, his wife and teenage son began building a home, which included a special area he called his Antelope Valley Indian Research Museum. In it he displayed his collection of prehistoric and historic American Indian artifacts, which he interpreted in a way that he thought would be instructive and entertaining for visitors. Some of his imaginative descriptions can still be seen in displays in the museum’s upper gallery, his former research museum, now called California Hall.

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Grace Wilcox Oliver, who had taken some courses in anthropology, purchased the property, reinforced the main building, expanded the physical facilities, and added her own artifacts. She opened the Edwards’ house as the Antelope Valley Indian Museum in the early 1940s and operated it intermittently for the next three decades, gradually adding to the collections. Mrs. Oliver’s approach to interpreting American Indian materials can be seen in the museum’s Southwest Room.

The artifacts represented in the Antelope Valley Indian Museum’s electronic catalog show the avid if sometimes idiosyncratic interests of the original collectors. Many of the objects were acquired in the early twentieth century by enthusiasts rather than scholars and before current standards of archaeological provenance and record keeping were established. Most of the objects in the Antelope Valley Indian Museum were undocumented and many are identified as being created by cultural groups that are not the names used by peoples of those cultures. Serious research is currently take place to identify these objects as accurately as possible and revisions are ongoing.

Local support for the acquisition of the property resulted in the state of California purchasing the museum in 1979, with Grace Oliver donating all of the artifacts. The majority of the museum’s collections emphasizes the Southwestern, California and Great Basin Indians, although it contains artifacts from a number of other geographic regions.

In the 1980s, the State Parks designated the museum as a regional Indian museums, representing the cultures of the western Great Basin (east and southeast of the Sierra Nevada Mountains). Material culture from local archaeological discoveries is occasionally added to the collections.

Serious research identifying and assessing the objects in the museum’s collections began in the early 1990s with the beginning of an electronic cataloging project and is ongoing.

The museum has made every attempt to provide reliable identification and descriptions of the artifacts, but cannot guarantee the accuracy of these data.

Mission Statement

The mission of the Antelope Valley Indian Museum is to provide for the education, inspiration and benefit of the people of California as well as those throughout the world with interest in the material culture and lifeways of prehistoric, historic, and contemporary American Indian cultures and the unique folk art represented at the park by

  • providing programs, projects, and exhibits that educate, enlighten, and inspire people to explore the cultures represented at the Museum and to an ever-widening audience.
  • supporting research and information dissemination that will provide understanding of the links between these treasures and the peoples who generated them.
  • preserving the park’s natural, cultural and historic resources unimpaired for present and future generations.
    Major interpretive themes of the museum are:

  • the importance of the trade route through the Antelope Valley, which linked and created an interaction sphere for three major culture regions: California, the Great Basin, and the Southwest;
  • the museum illustrates nearly seventy years of change/evolution in the way American Indian cultural materials are exhibited and interpreted in museums.
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