FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 1, 2007
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Would the Real Pocahontas Please Stand Up?
Exhibition at Virginia Historical Society explores the life and legend of famous Powhatan Indian
Richmond, VA – Matoaka. Rebecka. Pocahontas. She was known by many names in her lifetime. More than 400 years later, she is still an enigma to most—a famous Native Virginian who forged an alliance with the English settlers despite her powerful father's objections. Popular culture has used her image and legacy to market everything from toys to cartoons. It has also left many Americans and Europeans confused as to the real story of Pocahontas. An exhibition at the Virginia Historical Society (VHS), Pocahontas: Her life and Legend explores the many myths and images of Pocahontas and compares them to the few documented facts about her life. Although the exhibition may not dispel all the myths, it will help explain why they were created and why they have endured so long and so intensely.
"For centuries the Pocahontas story has appealed to Americans," says Dr. Robert S. Tilton, co-curator of the exhibition. "She was born into a culture that had some knowledge of Europeans, and after they settled on the outskirts of the territory controlled by her father, she was apparently drawn to the new strangers. A number of the chroniclers of the Jamestown founding mention Pocahontas by name and note her interactions with the English settlers."
A legend would be developed around this Powhatan girl, who perhaps saved John Smith from execution and who would as a young woman be kidnapped as a political pawn, converted to Christianity, married to a settler, and taken to England as an example of the potential of the New World for cultural indoctrination. It was among members of her adopted nation that she took sick and died, at age 22, as she attempted to return to her homeland.
Despite the familiarity of the Pocahontas story, many questions remain today about this eye-witness to the convergence of two disparate cultures. What we know of her has been lifted from the narratives of English males, all of whom brought their particular fantasies and prejudices to bear on their representations of the New World and its people. Pocahontas: Her Life and Legend will evaluate both her life and the jarring interaction between cultures that gave it meaning. The exhibit will attempt to lay to rest such issues as Pocahontas's relationship with John Smith, her effectiveness as a peacemaker (and whether that was her intention), and how she should be remembered.
"The show will also investigate her mythology," adds co-curator Dr. William M. S. Rasmussen. "Over the centuries the Pocahontas narrative has been retold, embellished, and so frequently adapted to contemporary issues that the actual, flesh-and-blood woman has been hidden behind it. The myths tell as much about their creators as about the figure whom they celebrate."
The exhibition will present more than 40 objects, including paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture, books, and sheet music. A catalog will accompany the show. The exhibition will be on view at the VHS from February 10 through June 24, 2007. Educational programs include a Gallery Walk conducted by Dr. Rasmussen on Wednesday, February 28, 2007 (noon) and a Banner Lecture Thursday, June 14, 2007 (noon) by Helen Rountree. Visit www.vahistorical.org for more information.
The Virginia Historical Society is located at 428 N. Boulevard. The Story of Virginia, An American Experience,
a 10,000-square-foot exhibition with more than a thousand objects covering all of Virginia history from prehistoric
times to the present is featured in the Robins Center for Virginia History. Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am - 5pm
and Sunday 1pm - 5pm (Museum Galleries only). Admission: $5/adults, $4/seniors 55+ ($2/Tuesdays–galleries
only), $3/children and students, free/members. Admission to the galleries is free on Sundays. For group tour
information, call (804) 342-9652. For more information, please call (804) 358-4901 or visit