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In a joint acquisition, ASU has just scored what scholars believe is one of the most comprehensive collections of Western film memorabilia ever gathered.
The posters, lobby cards, film stills, press books and movies dating from the early 1900s put the university and its partner, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, in position to boost research from several fields and help dispel stereotypes and misconceptions of American Indians.
The $6 million, 5,000-piece collection “cuts across so many disciplines,” said Peter Lehman, a film and media studies professor and director of ASU’s Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture. “I can see film, history and Native American students receiving great benefit.”
Recording the cultural memories of the American West, the Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History features images and illustrations of movie cowboys including Bronco Billy, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
The collection also "puts the Native American on center stage again,” ASU history professor Don Fixico said.
Fixico — who is affiliated with the Shawnee, Sac & Fox, Muscogee Creek and Seminole tribes — teaches a film class called “Outlaws, Indians and Ladies of the Wild West” and said that before the advent of Westerns, Native Americans had been marginalized, largely forgotten and nearly wiped out.
“When film came along, we became part of the American narrative again,” Fixico said. “We were sidekicks in the beginning, but in the 1960s and 1970s, we became main characters.”
Video of Western film poster and artifact collection at Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West
The museum was to display a tiny fraction of the collection at a private celebration event Thursday evening.
ASU and Scottsdale’s Museum of the West were scheduled to hold a private event Thursday evening, celebrating their educational and community partnership. The museum plans to exhibit selected works next summer, and scholars and researchers will be able to access the collection in fall 2017.
Rennard Strickland, a professor and senior scholar in residence at the University of Oklahoma College of Law, said he started gathering the memorabilia in the early 1970s.
“I can never do anything in a mild way,” he said. “I loved these films growing up.”
Strickland, of Osage and Cherokee heritage, is an expert on Indian law and passed his collection to ASU and the Museum of the West so that it could be used as a teaching tool and resource to faculty, students and scholars.
Western film historian Charlie LeSueur said the collection “outshines any film poster collection out there,” including the Autry Museum of the American West and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which are both in Los Angeles.
“It’s historically beneficial to what I’m doing, and I know it will help others who study and follow the genre,” said LeSueur, who has written three books on Western films. The items could "answer questions I've had for decades."
Top photo: A 1939 movie poster illustration for "Stagecoach," considered an American Western film classic starring John Wayne and directed by John Ford. This is one of approxmiately 5,000 pieces in the new Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History recently acquired by ASU and Scottsdale's Museum of the West. Courtesy of Rennard Strickland.