Art: The Vanishing American

"It's fun to watch them," said an attendant at M.I.T.'s Charles Hayden Memorial Library last week. "They walk around with a half-smile as if they were really enjoying it." What the M.I.T. students were crowding in to see was not the usual collection of old masters or the latest in advance-guard painting. Instead, the Institute was exhibiting a sample of an ancient and vanishing American art: the carved wooden Indians and trade symbols that merchants used to advertise their wares 100 years ago.

In a corner of the ultramodern glass and stone library, a group of Indian warriors in full headdress proffered...

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