Steven Stricker wasn't sure he whether he wanted to study art or history in depth when he entered Western Maryland College four years ago.
So he did both.
"What people must understand is that you can study history through art," said Mr. Stricker, a senior art history major who will graduate next spring. "And all great art is connected through history as well."
Mr. Stricker showed how art and history are related through a Native American art exhibit he prepared as part of his senior project.
The exhibit, which is on display through Friday, depicts a portion of the little-known history of the indigenous tribes that populated the continent during the late 19th century.
"I figure this would be a good way to put the two subjects together," Mr. Stricker said. "The interest in Indian art wasn't there from the beginning, but once I began studying it for this project, I found it fascinating."
The display, in the Hoover Library gallery, includes an authentic Blackfoot ceremonial deerskin outfit, Zuni water pots and Papago baskets. It had been stored in the school archives.
Mr. Stricker said the cornerstone of the exhibit is the eight intricately designed Navajo blankets that are regularly displayed throughout the library, but have been re-cataloged and described through Mr. Stricker's extensive research.
"During the summer, I spent every Monday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. in libraries around the state," he said. "I worked all spring, also, doing the project."
Because the exhibit's schedule included Columbus Day, Mr. Stricker gave a talk last week on how the exhibit related to a holiday that celebrated the exploits of a visitor some 400 years before many of these items were made.
"One of the most interesting aspect of these works is the influence the white traders had on the Indians who made them," said Mr. Stricker.
"The traders approached the tribes and commercialized their work, going as far as making a catalog that others could order from," he said.
Mr. Stricker's exhibit tells a story, he said, of how these tribes lived before they were forced into reservations by the government.
"The things used to create the art are directly linked to where the people lived, what they traded and what technology was available to them," he said. "You can read a lot more into the art than just noticing the way it looks."
"You have to understand the culture and the backgrounds of the tribes before you can understand the art," he said.
Mr. Stricker's exhibit also explained the history surrounding the blankets, such as how tribes traded them for clothing and weapons.
One of the many negative effects of reservation life, Mr. Stricker told his audience, was that money complicated their otherwise simple way of life.
"They were forced to do things for money because trading no longer benefited them," he said. "It was no longer something they could get along without."
Mr. Stricker said he has learned even more about the importance of money since working on this project. He had considered working for an art gallery after graduation, but has found the job market somewhat closed for curators.
"I'd like to curate, but there's not a lot of jobs out there or money for it," he said. "After graduating, I'd like to go to graduate school, but I will probably try to find a decent job first.
"I think I'd make a pretty good researcher. I do enjoy it."
He also has thought about following in the footsteps of his father, William, a math, accounting and computer teacher at South Carroll High School, and teach art or history.
"I could be a professor and show the students how to figure out what was happening centuries ago by looking at a picture, a vase, a bowl," Mr. Stricker said. "There are just so many things a piece of art can tell you, if you ask the right questions."