Exhibit includes additional Key Marco artifacts and watercolors
by expedition artist Wells Sawyer
MARCO ISLAND, Fla., July 12, 2022 Marco Island, located on Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, is one of the Sunshine State’s most beautiful and desirable tourist destinations. But it is so much more. For hundreds of years, it has held in its earth some of the mysteries of the Island’s ancient peoples — the Calusa and their ancestors.
In 1896, Marco Island revealed one of the most important finds in the history of American archaeology. Smithsonian anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing discovered the now world-famous Key Marco Cat and other 500-to-1,500-year-old artifacts on Key Marco during the famed Pepper-Hearst archaeological expedition.
These artifacts of wood and plant fiber were astonishingly well preserved because they were buried in an oxygen free muck. Some were painted and their original colors were still intact.
Many began disintegrating upon exposure to the air. They would have been lost forever if not for expedition artist and photographer Wells Sawyer who captured them in watercolors and photos as they were brought out of the ground.
Now, for the first time since their discovery, the Key Marco Cat and other rare pre-Columbian Native American artifacts discovered with it are reunited at the Marco Island Historical Museum (MIHM). In addition, a number of Sawyer’s original watercolors of the artifacts will be exhibited starting in October.
The Key Marco Cat, on loan to the MIHM from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, is on exhibit at MIHM now through 2026.
The Key Marco Cat — one of the finest pieces of pre-Columbian Native American art ever discovered in North America — is on exhibit at the Marco Island Historical Museum through 2026. Photo credit: Courtesy of Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution (A240915)
Sixteen additional Key Marco artifacts, on loan from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum), are on exhibit at the MIHM now through April 2024.
In Art of the Dig: Wells Sawyer’s Watercolors, six original Wells Sawyer watercolors are on loan from the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. In addition, 25 reproductions of Sawyer’s works from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archives and the Penn Museum will be part of the exhibit from October 13, 2022 through January 19, 2023.
The Key Marco Cat, a half cat/half human figure, is considered one of the finest pieces of pre-Columbian Native American art ever discovered in North America. At just six inches tall, the enigmatic feline has captured the public’s imagination for over a century and continues to intrigue all who view it.
The Key Marco artifacts are showcased in the MIHM’s award-winning permanent exhibit Paradise Found: 6,000 Years of People on Marco Island. This exhibit features a life-size Calusa village and more than 300 pre-Columbian Native American artifacts from Marco Island. Original artwork depicts the lives and ceremonies of the Calusa and the 1896 archaeological dig. A Calusa-inspired soundtrack by Emmy and Peabody Award-winning composer Kat Epple enhances the immersive visitor experience.
“The Key Marco Cat from the Smithsonian collections is an extraordinary object that attests to the unique archaeological record of Key Marco and the people and cultures who lived there for millennia,” notes Torben Rick, Chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.
“The Key Marco Artifacts exhibit is the culmination of a 25-year vision on the part of the Marco Island Historical Society to bring these incredibly important artifacts back to Marco Island in order to educate and inspire people of all ages about the fascinating history of our region,” says MIHS Curator of Collections Austin Bell. “It has taken years of planning and discussions with the lending institutions and the support of a public-private partnership that includes the Marco Island Historical Society, Collier County and the community.”
The Key Marco Artifacts exhibit is supported in part by the Collier County Tourist Development Council. For information on Collier County, visit www.paradisecoast.com.
The Marco Island Historical Museum is located at 180 S. Heathwood Drive, Marco Island, Florida, and open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Handicapped accessible. For information, call 239.389.6447 or visit www.theMIHS.org.
view more images here.
SOURCE Marco Island Historical Society