Collection Highlights

133 Objects, 133 Years

The Milwaukee Public Museum curatorial staff have selected 133 of the most important, unique, or interesting objects and collections to highlight during our 133rd anniversary year. These items reflect the broad scope of the over 4 million-plus objects in the Museum's collections. Many of the items featured below are not on exhibit due to their fragile nature. One of the Museum's primary goals is to preserve objects for generations to come. As a virtual exhibit, we can share with people around the world our most rare and intriguing items without harm to them.

Mambila Collection
82.) Mambila Collection

The Mambila (Mambilla) are an agricultural group that inhabits northern Nigeria and western Cameroon. Gilbert Schneider of Ohio University collected in the Mambila grasslands of northern Nigeria from 1947 to 1951. Schneider tried to obtain materials relating to all aspects of Mambila life ranging from ancestral objects, such as this terra cotta shrine figure, to clothing. He kept detailed records on how the items were used by the Mambila, key information for museum collections. In addition to the Mambila exhibit in the Museum's African hall, see the Museum's webpage on the largest Mambila collection outside of West Africa. Learn more about this collection at

Kiowa Cradleboard and Cover
83.) Kiowa Cradleboard and Cover

This cradleboard and cover were collected in Oklahoma City by George Gorton of Racine, WI who donated it to the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1962. It was made by a master beadworker named Doyetone around 1904 for her grandson William "Bill" Bear.

The Kiowa are a Plains tribe that traditionally hunted buffalo in the area that is now Oklahoma and Kansas. Cradleboards and covers were used to carry infants while freeing the hands of the mothers while they work. This particular cradleboard is very intricate and in comparison to most cradleboards. The cradleboard, with a blue silk lining, features a leather cover that is almost entirely decorated with beads in floral and corn motifs.

Dogrib (Tłįchǫ) Collection
84.) Dogrib (Tłįchǫ) Collection

Dr. Nancy Oestreich Lurie, then with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, collected these items in 1967 from the Tłįchǫ (tɬhĩtʃhõ), formerly called Dogrib for the Milwaukee Public Museum during a research trip with Dr. June Helm of the University of Iowa. The Tłįchǫ live in the Northwest Territories, Canada between Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake. Dr. Lurie and Dr. Helm were the first anthropologists to conduct extensive ethnological research with the Tłįchǫ. The Museum’s collection reflects a variety of aspects of Tłįchǫ domestic life.

Siberian Coat
85.) Siberian Coat
Siberian Coat

The Milwaukee Public Museum purchased this coat from the Commercial Museum in Philadelphia, PA in 1919. Thought to be collected in the 1890s, this child's coat is made from fish-skin and decorated with a red and black border. Fish-skin coats are warm and waterproof, and are typically used as a kind of raincoat, usually large enough to be worn over a skin or bird parka for added protection from the wind and rain. Garments made from fish-skins are more often used by groups that live near rivers or the sea. Intact fish-skin clothing from such an early date is quite rare.

Lacandon Collection
86.) Lacandon Collection
19445, 24988, 22192, 25437

The Lacandon are an indigenous Mayan-speaking group living in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Today, only 300-500 Lacandon remain. One of the few groups not fully colonized by the Spanish, the Lacandon retained their indigenous religion until recently. The Museum's collection includes 113 objects widely representative of the group's material culture. Peter Thornquist collected most of the items in 1979 while visiting the Lacandon village of Metzabok, Mexico. The collection is important since it reflects items before tourism encroached the area. The Milwaukee Public Museum currently has a page on its website on the Lacandon collection and culture ( Also, see the Lacandon exhibit in the Latin American Hall on the Museum's 3rd floor.

Feather Cape
87.) Feather Cape

This feather cape was bought at an auction in England by William Sturtevant in 1987 with funds from the Milwaukee Public Museum's Friends of the Museum. It is believed to date to the 1830s and was made as part of the Iroquois "whimsy" complex, possibly by the Ottawa or Huron. The cape's feathers come from male and female mallard, gadwell, peacock, goose, and pheasant. The cape is sewn together with feathers, and the neck ties are made from yellow silk. It is thought that the cape was produced for sale specifically to Europeans as it matches the European fashion requirements of that time. However, the techniques utilized are based on older traditions of the tribes. At least 50 or so capes of this type are known to exist and few are in such good condition.

Comanche Cougar Skin Quiver
88.) Comanche Cougar Skin Quiver

As an incredibly ornate piece of hunting equipment, this quiver and arrow set that came to the Museum in 1900 is a stunning example of Comanche craftsmanship. The shafts of all the arrows are stained a different color and are adorned with feathers. The quiver itself is made from cougar fur and has a fringe of cougar skin pieces that hang from the bottom. White, yellow, red, and blue beads are woven in a geometric pattern on the shoulder strap, as well as on the fringes.

Winter Count
89.) Winter Count

This large cotton cloth covered in drawings from the Rosebud Reservation in south-central South Dakota is known as a winter count and came to the museum in the late 19th century. Sketched in pencil, the cloth is adorned with an array of figures and objects from Sioux culture including tipis, houses, animals, trees, and horses with riders. This object held much importance as the historical record of the tribe. Images representing special events would be sketched onto the count to aid the memory in keeping history alive.

Lakota Girl's Dress
90.) Lakota Girl's Dress

Children's clothing from North American Indian cultures, other than moccasins, is unusual to find in many museums. This little girl's dress is in exceptional condition and is among the earliest items to be cataloged in the Museum.

Mathiak Collection
91.) Mathiak Collection

The Mathiak Collection of Freshwater Mussels of Wisconsin includes specimens from over 250 rivers and creeks in Wisconsin, provides information regarding the mussel population in Wisconsin over time, and gives rise to future research topics. The collection also features endangered species in the state of Wisconsin such as the Villosa iris, or Rainbow Shell mussel.

Harold A. Mathiak worked for the WI-DNR as a biologist until his retirement. He then spent the next five years doing his freshwater mussel survey across the state, subsequently publishing a book on his findings as a Research Associate at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point.