KNOXVILLE—A prehistoric Native American statue currently on display in the lobby of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture is thought to be the female counterpart to a male figure that was named the Tennessee State Artifact in 2014.
The pair appears to have been made by the same sculptor between A.D. 1250 and 1350, and the two rank among the finest prehistoric sculptures ever found in the United States. Both statues were found in the 1930s at the Sellars farm in Wilson County, Tennessee, and they appeared together for the first time in the Tennessee State Museum’s recent “Ancestors” exhibition. Paired male and female statues are thought to represent founding ancestors of the prehistoric Native American societies of the middle South.
The male statue was sold to UT in 1940 by the tenant farmer. The figure has been featured in several scientific and popular publications, including a 1941 issue of “Time” magazine and as a United States postal stamp celebrating the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2004. It has been featured in various museums worldwide, including the 1992 exhibition “Tresors du Nouveau Monde” at the Musees Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire in Brussels, Belgium, and the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibit “Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand” in 2004 and 2005.
The female statue was sold by the Sellars family to Lillard Yeaman, sheriff of Smith County and an amateur archaeologist, and then to John C. Waggoner Jr. of Carthage, Tennessee. Waggoner has loaned the statue to UT, and the pair will be on display in the lobby of the McClung Museum through the end of the year.
Recognizing the importance of keeping the statue in Tennessee and reuniting it with its male counterpart, Waggoner has offered the museum a purchase option. To reach this end, the museum is now engaged in a fundraising effort.
Exhibits at the McClung Museum showcase the geologic, historical and artistic past of Tennessee, as well as cultures from around the globe.
The McClung Museum is at 1327 Circle Park Drive. Museum admission is free, and the museum’s hours are 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1–5 p.m. Sundays.