Living history

Film showcases passion for Native American artifacts.

Living history

Gordon Smith developed a passion for all things Native American while traveling the West with his family. This photo came from home movies dating back to the 1930s.

Living history

Film showcases passion for Native American artifacts.

Back in 1925, a 5-year-old named Gordon Smith went on a family vacation in the American West that included a stop in Glacier National Park. There he met Blackfoot Chief Two-Guns-White-Calf, who gave him a small, rawhide rattle.

It was the beginning of what would become a collection of more than 1,000 Native American artifacts that the Fort Worth native would gather through the years.

The recently renovated Fort Worth Natural Science Museum is displaying his collection along with a documentary produced and directed by Gregory Mansur, a TCU professor of film television and digital media. (FTDM)

“The documentary is his story,” Mansur says. “How he began the collection, his interest in the Native Americans, and why he was made an honorary member of the Lakota Sioux when he was 14 years old. The film functions as not only living history but places the collection into a personal and historical context.”

Ron Watson, chair of the Art Department, introduced Mansur to Gordon, who is also a stained glass artist. Mansur visited Smith’s Fort Worth home and saw his vast Native American art collection.

“It was breathtaking,” he says. “After only a few minutes of meeting and talking with Gordon I realized his story needed to be a film, needed to become a part of his collection. Here was living history — the story of a man who since the age of 5 felt a kinship and connection to the Native Americans.

“The collection is about art, about spirit, about honoring life and its mysteries. I’m a philosopher at heart, always asking the essential questions about life. Here, through Gordon, was a window into his soul and into the souls of those he knew and honored, and served as a legacy for what many considers sacred objects.“

Mansur spent four years on the eight-minute film, working with Dick Lane, a member of the photography faculty who took photos of each artifact. Mansur also traveled with Smith to Parker County where members of Smith’s family still live and eventually found a treasure trove of 16mm black and white home movies.

“Some of the rolls were so old they crumbled to the touch,” Mansur says. “I sent those to an archival film transfer house in Connecticut that managed to salvage a few minutes of Gordon’s travels. This was the gold all documentary filmmakers hope to find. There wasn’t a lot of footage – about two minutes – but it was enough to bring the story to life.”

Mansur said it was clear from the beginning that Smith’s collection was unique, but he needed a story to connect the artifacts to the man.

“It wasn’t until I received the old archival film footage of Gordon’s travels that I knew what the film was about,” he says. “It was a road trip, the story of a boy and his father, traveling the West during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, meeting Indian traders, visiting with Native Americans, and adding to his collection.

“It was also the story of a boy and his father, a man who loved his son and was committed to helping his passion grow,” he says of the film titled “Plains Indians, Texas Pioneers, and the Boy In-Between: Gordon Smith.”

Mansur said he would like to expand the film, adding more about the Native American tribes of the early 20th Century, but that would require additional funding to cover purchasing archival footage, which runs $25 per second.

The film debuted at the Houston Museum of Natural History, which recently acquired Smith’s collection.

Mansur is a founding member of Random Order Entertainment, a group of seven Texas filmmakers committed to creating quality films in Texas, using Texas resources.

He and his wife, Nancy, are working on a pilot TV show to be shot in Texas.

“I can’t tell you too much except to say it explores children in our society, where most of the adults have failed them, but a few dedicated professionals are offering them a chance to create a life of possibility, hope and joy.”

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