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August 30, 2009

One Word

Plastic_People_of_the_Universe2_nc
  Plastic People of the Universe. (Retrieved from http://new.lincolncenter.org/live/index.php/lc-ood-images)

1967. A big year for plastics: The Graduate and Frank Zappa’s “Plastic People” on Absolutely Free were released. The song inspired the naming of The Plastic People of the Universe (PPU), a Czech band formed in Prague in 1968, two months after Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia. (The Plastic Ono Band, featuring Yoko, John, and others debuted in 1969.) Arrest of The Plastic People of the Universe band members in 1976, in turn, partially influenced the drafting of Charter 77, a petition written by Czechoslovakian writers and intellectuals, including future Czech Republic president Vaclav Havel, demanding the Communist Czechoslovakian government to recognize basic human rights.

Plastics, they make things happen.

Plastics are organic polymers of high molecular weight and go back further than 1967. Natural plastics, such as horn, beeswax, and bitumen, can be found throughout the collections of NMAI. However, the more modern synthetic materials, like polyurethanes, polyethylenes, polystyrenes, that we so often think of--or don’t think of, as they have become so acculturated to our present lives --are not often found in the NMAI collection.  That is until the acquisition of Brian Jungen’s Crux (as seen from those who sleep on the surface of the earth under the night sky). This piece, which comprises five-larger-than-life animals made of plastic suitcases, has made up for the dearth ten-fold.

Wrestling
Wrestling an eighty-pound plastic alligator from Crux.

For conservators, plastics in museum collections can be a challenge. Despite the apparent resilience of plastics, they are susceptible to degradation by the forces to which they may be exposed every day: light, heat, moisture, and, yes, even oxygen. For example, UV (ultraviolet) light and moisture can cause cellulose nitrate, a plastic first made in the 1860s and used to imitate tortoise shell and ivory, to convert its nitrogen oxides to nitric and nitrous acids. This acidic reaction can cause severe degradation of the object.  A classic example of this can be found in the exhibit Rotten Luck: The Decaying Dice of Ricky Jay at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. Check out slight-of-hand master Ricky Jay’s explanation and beautiful images of a slightly tragic process.

(The Museum of Jurassic Technology was co-founded by David Hildebrand Wilson, a MacArthur Fellow, who gave a great talk at the Hirshhorn Museum, just down the street from NMAI, last November. It just so happens that Mr. Jungen will be discussing his own art there as well on October 16, 2009. Mark your calendars.)


Plastics-comb-glasses_zoom
Degraded cellulose nitrate. (Retrieved from: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/37958/title/Long_Live_Plastics)

While Crux is made from new plastics (suitcases even, which are supposed to withstand the utmost rigors), it is part of our job as conservators to mitigate future degradation so that the pieces may survive even longer and, we hope, retain their current aesthetics, as wished by Mr. Jungen. To do this, we will identify the actual type of plastics found in Crux and make projections about how they may age. We will test samples of the plastics of Crux by exposing them to high doses of visual and UV light to determine what we might expect to happen to the actual object under certain conditions. We will strongly recommend that Crux be exhibited in an area in which UV and visible light have been suppressed, in order to slow fading, darkening, or yellowing of the different types of plastic. It is also recommended that the length of time the pieces are on display be curtailed, so that they may be exhibited again at another point in the same condition. 

This is part of what we are doing. More to come.

For those of you who can’t wait, check these out:

Thom Yorke mournfully sings about degraded polystyrene.

(Spoiler alert?) Cellulose nitrate helps win the war in recent movie box-office hit.

More about the challenges of preserving plastics.

Also more plastics research by Jia-sun Tsang, a conservator at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute.


Comments (18)

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Awesome post, Anne! I've never been so excited about plastics. And thanks for the Museum of Jurassic Technology exhibit link.

Andy Warhol: “I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They're beautiful. Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to *be* plastic.”

And now I want to be plastic, too; degradation be darned!

(Merci pour le blog!)

You still got it!!!

wow Crux is amazing!

now this is what i called real museum.. cool and have high creativity..

regards
agen bola

I do not like plastics for some reason... Global Warming may be? Well I know few people do not believe the Global Warming thing but I do and I just do not like plastics. Yet, I so love that museum. It is highly innovative :-) Good Job, Anne!

Regards,
Rachel.
My Website - http://howtodate101.com

Noo! Im using my iphone and I cant seem to be able to access the page right. I will be back to read this tonight when I get home from school. The title looks like something I need to read.

Darren

I hate plastics(material things and people). They are toxic to our environment.

My blog http://knowhowtogetridof.blogspot.com

The world now is almost covered with plastics. We should make an alternative way to minimize the multiplication of plastics in every places. This site is a good example of recycling plastics. This encourage a lot of people to recycle plastics. A big help to fight Global warming. Cheers for this post!

Plastic is a big problem for environment, say Global warming. When we traveled in China, there are full of white plastic bags along the railway. We must do something about it.

Thanks for writing such a great post!

Cool and awesome!

wooww veryy nicee. I would like to go there

This is so cool.

wooww veryy nicee. I would like to go there

This is so cool.

I like this web page.

awesome post, re-use of recycled objects is likely to reduce the pollution of natural

I love the way their hair goes. It is challenging to have those plastic have in real good shape.

August 20, 2009

Mohawk Pincushion

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Mohawk pincushion with four winds symbol, ca. 1900. Wool cloth, cotton cloth, metal beads, glass beads, unknown stuffing. 8 x 22 cm. 21/3275

This is the second post by Anna Wilkinson, former intern and current contractor in the Office of Publications at the NMAI. She's been going around the museum for the past couple months asking NMAI staff about objects and spaces they find particularly interesting. Read her first post here.

 

This Mohawk pincushion occupies a relatively unassuming space in the Our Universes permanent exhibit on the 4th floor of the museum. Yet, Jose Montano (Qulla), NMAI Cultural Interpreter, receives a disproportionate number of questions about it.

 

“For many people the symbol on the pincushion has a specific meaning and for Jewish people it has a particularly painful meaning. As well, people coming from Hindu backgrounds are surprised to see an ancient symbol that has other meanings in their culture. So I get people coming up to me all the time asking, ‘Why is this here?’ or ‘What does this have to do with Native American culture?’”

 

In fact, the symbol on the pincushion represents the four winds, a concept that many Native cultures hold in common. As Jose explained, for many of the cultures represented in the Our Universes exhibit, the number four has a special significance and is related to worldviews based on the four cardinal directions.

 

Without someone like Jose there to explain it, the object could be quite confusing. But I don’t think that being confused is necessarily a bad thing. I would say that it is precisely this confusion—the unexpectedness of seeing a seemingly familiar (and upsetting) symbol in a foreign context—that requires people to think about their own cultural assumptions and more importantly, forces them to ask questions. 

 

And as Jose pointed out, the work he does as a cultural interpreter helps people connect with the stories behind the objects. “Interpretation always helps bring objects to life,” Jose explained. “As a cultural interpreter I have the opportunity to tell people about the many meanings objects have.”

 

When we were saying goodbye I tried to ask Jose about his favorite object to talk about. He said it was impossible to choose. He would only say, “Even the simplest objects have stories.”

 

See the Mohawk pincushion in the "Stars and Constellations" section of the Our Universes exhibit any day of the week, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and remember to ask Jose and the other cultural interpreters lots of questions!

 

Comments (4)

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Such a fascinating pincushion! I have never came across something as significant as a pincushion that represents four winds!

Very artistic and cute pincushion. The significance of this pincushion is quite a treasure in relevant to our history. Thanks for the informative post.

Really great post, I have never seen such a pictorial graphics...thanks

Colorado Interior Designers

Very intricate design. I wonder how long it took to sew this piece, a small piece I might add. Interesting piece of work.

August 19, 2009

Blues Concert and Discussion, Aug. 22 in Washington, DC

The 2009 Indian Summer Showcase concert series will conclude this Saturday with a blues concert and discussion presented in collaboration with the National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture. The concert will showcase Native and African-American blues musicians and celebrate shared musical traditions. http://www.nmai.si.edu/iss/2009/schedule.html

Here’s a preview of blues history from several participants including Ron Welburn and Elaine Bomberry, who will be leading the blues discussion, and Justin Robinson, who will be performing with the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

 

Small_Ron Welburn_20080213_01a_raw_ps_009


Indians and Early Blues by Ron Welburn


What poet and folklorist Sylvester Brito (Comanche & Tarascan) once described as a “blues aesthetic” for Native American storytelling resonates in the participation of Native performers in blues, jazz, and popular music. This Native blues aesthetic embodies feelings about the survival of Native identity and communities as well as what ’49 songs express about loved ones, snagging, and being away from homelands. The Native heritage of so many blues, jazz, and popular music musicians and singers is practically unknown; the music world and audiences have assumed them to be African American or European American.


The enigmatic “king of the Delta blues,” Charley Patton, was Choctaw; his contemporary, Leon “Scrapper” Blackwell, Eastern Cherokee. From earliest recording days down to the 1970s when more Indians began to assert their cultural identities, an impressive array of Native and Native heritage performers have left their marks on American music, with subtle elemental and structural characteristics of traditional Southeastern and other Native music contributing to blues and jazz styles. In my presentation on blues and Indians, I will offer a perspective that will stimulate our thinking about Native American contributions to African American/American music culture.

 

BUFFY EB


A Native Influence on the Blues  by Elaine Bomberry


The very little revealed history of the possibility of a Native musical influence on the formation of the early blues is a story you don’t hear much about anywhere.  In most history books written on the blues, there is no mention of the cultural exchange and inter-mix that happened between runaway African slaves and Native Americans, and how this possibly could have led the formation of the early blues.

This Saturday’s discussion will explore the possibilities about a Native contribution to the development of the early blues, and how history intersected Native Americans and runaway slaves in the south.  How do we not know that the sharing of these cultures gave birth to the blues?  The significant Native contribution to the development of the blues is examined as well.  Is there room for this theory in music history today?  

We explore the hidden history, and musical truth of Native peoples and the origins of the blues.  Is there a Native musical influence on the formation of the blues…is there a connection through the Stomp Dance, call and response singing? Is there a valid theory here?  These questions will be addressed in my presentation during “The Blues:  Branches, Roots and Beyond” discussion.

The voices that have emerged who also know that there is a definite Native influence on the blues include Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree, Saskatchewan), who has spoken about the Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans, and that they are Choctaw and African-American, and are not appropriating Native culture.  Also, Pura Fe (Tuscarora), who’s a solo blues guitarist and singer, has spoken about how the Tuscarora Nation has intermixed with African Americans, and how this could have given birth to the blues.  Segments of “The Aboriginal Music Experience...A Radio Documentary Series” on REZ BLUEZ, will be played during the discussion as well.  [Link to:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=20798640408]

 

Small_Carolina Chocolate Drops 2


Old Time Music’s Native Roots by Justin Robinson of the Carolina Chocolate Drops

www.carolinachocolatedrops.com


The old time music we play mostly comes from North Carolina's Piedmont region which historically had many interactions with a variety of Native peoples, both in the European and African American communities.  One of our mentors, Joe Thompson, was born and raised in Mebane, NC which is also tribal home of the Occaneechi-Saponi Nation. The area of Orange and Alamance Counties were rich in black and Indian practitioners of this music. One such banjo player, Dink Roberts [link to: http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemID=2411], who was listed as black or mulatto, was probably, in fact, an Occaneechi banjo player, and it seems that his style was influenced greatly by Indian, black, and European styles.


Many of the square dances held in the black and white communities, both in the past and today, have Native underpinnings.  When traveling in a square, the dancers almost always go counterclockwise, which, according to sources, is a Native tradition since the "heart side/mother side" was always to be closest to the center of the ring.  Appalachian step dancing, buck dancing, or flat foot dancing are all varieties of an amalgam of Native, European, and African derived steps, which melded together so early and so completely that at this point it is nearly impossible to distinguish  what comes from whom.  Many of the early blues, R&B, and soul greats boast of blended heritage, as do we, the members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops.  Our musical expressions reflect our New World identities.

Comments (28)

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Hello,

As a member of NMAI, I am very pleased to see that more and more information is being presented about Native/African American Culture through the museum with various projects and topics. It is long overdue. Much light needs to be brought to our unique culture and its origins.

I also would like to make a correction that in the southeastearn States such VA,SC,NC as well as several others the history of Native/African American Descendants is that both people were held in bondage on plantations and sold into slavery together very early on or ran away into the low country, swamps etc to escape the brutality of the European onslaught. Some books that I would recommend is:

Villany Often Goes Unpunished: Indian Records from the North Carolina General Assembly Session, 1675-1789 (Paperback)

In Full Force and Virtue: North Carolina Emancipation Records, 1713-1860 (Paperback)
by William L. Byrd
William L. Byrd (Author)

(This book has records and documents of enslaved Native American women and chidren who were enslaved and emancipated in the carolinas)

The enslavement of the American Indian in colonial times By Barbara J. Olexer

The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South ... By Alan Gallay

There are many other articles, Documents that I would hope to contribute in the future. So blues music has very deep and historical roots in the Native/African Community. Deeper than we realize. Some of these Native Cultures had customs and languages were totally lost or forgotten and may have channeled it's way through the blues music and other day to day customs that we are totally unaware of.

Thank you.

Shoshone
Pee Dee/Chowanoc Descendant

Hello,

As a member of NMAI, I am very pleased to see that more and more information is being presented about Native/African American Culture through the museum with various projects and topics. It is long overdue. Much light needs to be brought to our unique culture and its origins.

I also would like to make a correction that in the southeastearn States such VA,SC,NC as well as several others the history of Native/African American Descendants is that both people were held in bondage on plantations and sold into slavery together very early on or ran away into the low country, swamps etc to escape the brutality of the European onslaught. Some books that I would recommend is:

Villany Often Goes Unpunished: Indian Records from the North Carolina General Assembly Session, 1675-1789 (Paperback)

In Full Force and Virtue: North Carolina Emancipation Records, 1713-1860 (Paperback)
by William L. Byrd
William L. Byrd (Author)

(This book has records and documents of enslaved Native American women and chidren who were enslaved and emancipated in the carolinas)

The enslavement of the American Indian in colonial times By Barbara J. Olexer

The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South ... By Alan Gallay

There are many other articles, Documents that I would hope to contribute in the future. So blues music has very deep and historical roots in the Native/African Community. Deeper than we realize. Some of these Native Cultures had customs and languages were totally lost or forgotten and may have channeled it's way through the blues music and other day to day customs that we are totally unaware of.

Thank you.

Shoshone
Pee Dee/Chowanoc Descendant

hi. interesting topic. thanks for sharing

I'm from NC too but lets not forget about the African Americans that remain slaves in the North even after Lincoln's emancipation proclamation. Its funny how little people really know about our history. Wilmington SEO Company
By the way, I love the Chocolate Drops! I've seen them in at the Flat Rock Music Festival and I've seen them in Wilmington at the soap box. I thought they would be on MTV by now but I guess the rest of the nation hasn't really caught on to our NC funky roots music.

I like your article, let my share your happiness.
toronto seo

This is very informative. I had no idea that the Blues had Native American roots as well as African-American roots. You're right when you say that there is hardly any mention of this fact anywhere.

Rez Blues looks interesting too, thanks for that. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=20798640408

I didn't know that Charlie Patton was Choctaw either. Fascinating!

http://www.stikkyfingers.co.uk

Nice article, thanks.


This is very informative. I had no idea that the Blues had Native American roots as well as African-American roots. You're right when you say that there is hardly any mention of this fact anywhere.

Rez Blues looks interesting too, thanks for that.

I didn't know that Charlie Patton was Choctaw either. Fascinating!

I am really glad that they are recognizing Indian and African American culture in such a grand way. Great job guys!

I love The Blues!I am from the UK, and would love to be able to listen to real authentic blues music in the deep south one day. Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom, I really loved reading this post.

Fantastic post. I didn't know that Charlie Patton was Choctaw either.

I dont know what to say. This blog is fantastic.
Thats not really a really huge statement, but its all I could come up with after reading this.
You know so much about this subject. So much so that you made me want to learn more about it.
Your blog is my stepping stone, my friend. Thanks for the heads up on this subject.

Love it! Excellent article. Blues is in my soul and I can feel it through your words.

I have started taking dancing lessons and have been advised by my instructor that a lot of dances have actually been inspired by African American culture. This blog was very informative and I love blues music.

I'm a big fan of Native's folk and culture. People should never forget their roots.

Tony - Pozycjonowanie stron

I love The Blues!I am from the UK, and would love to be able to listen to real authentic blues music in the deep south one day. I am in the same boat.....maybe one day.....

This is a great article. I'm going to send this article to my buddies who love the different styles of blues and see if TrueFire, who teaches a lot of blues, will post it or reference it on their blog.

This is a fantastic article on blues and the culture. I'd love to read more articles like this one. This would be good for kids in music classes to read or hear about from their teachers. And in regards to what Sam said above, I've used Truefire before. That is where i learned to play blues.

I have started taking dancing lessons and have been advised by my instructor that a lot of dances have actually been inspired by African American culture. This blog was very informative and I love blues music.

Great Blog post. Thanks for sharing. I have bookmarked this post.

i watched this guy Ron Welburn last summer in maryland.. awesome show..

I like the look of your blog. Nice and clean. Also i enjoy reading
your content i find really useful content.

This information is great & been looking for quality blogs for my dancing site.
It will be the best interest to credit you & share this information to many more who interested to know music & dance.

Pls do contact me if I can post in my site?

Angelina

I have found this article while searching Native American Blues, since I am a fan of blues' roots. An enjoyable, informative read and a nice discover!

Sandro

Angelina,

Thanks for asking. We'd love to see people repost written content from the NMAI blog. The rights to illustrations, on the other hand, vary. Some are copyrighted, or used only with permission. Please check the credit that is included with each post's captions and respect the rights holder's wishes before using an image.

Best regards.

I love The Blues!I am from the UK, and would love to be able to listen to real authentic blues music in the deep south one day. Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom, I really loved reading this post.

This is very informative. I had no idea that the Blues had Native American roots as well as African-American roots. You're right when you say that there is hardly any mention of this fact anywhere.

This site is exactly what I've been looking for. I'm always going to events and love people living out their dreams.

What's Your Favorite Part of the NMAI?

051206KFSL013-NMAI image

The two elm trees on the southside of the National Museum of the American Indian building aren’t labeled. And you might not know that they're over one hundred years old just by looking at them. Or that Christine Price-Abelow, the head horticulturalist for the NMAI, thinks that they’re absolutely breathtaking.

Christine, who helps to maintain and care for all the outdoor plants at the NMAI, explained that the survival of two of the largest elm trees on Smithsonian property is amazing not only because of all the development that has happened on the site but because of the threat of Dutch elm disease which easily wipes out this type of tree. “Looking at old photographs of the site you’re able to see the two trees on what was once an empty lot. It’s incredible that we’ve been able to preserve them,” Christine told me.

When I sat down last week to talk to Christine about her job and her favorite part of the NMAI grounds she had a VERY hard time limiting herself to just one thing. In addition to the elm trees, she talked about how the food crop area at the NMAI sparks a lot of interest and that for some visitors it’s their first time seeing where foods like tomatoes, corn, and squash, actually come from. She also talked about the beauty of the building and how working outside gives her the opportunity to see it at different times of day: “Depending on how the light is hitting it, the color of the stone changes. The physical beauty of the building really stands out to me.”

As an intern and now as a short-term contractor in the Publications Department, I’ve been talking to NMAI staff like Christine and asking them about their favorite parts of the museum. Partly, I just wanted to make connections and talk to people (and stretch my legs) but I’m also interested in the personal meanings that staff members and visitors attach to the objects they look at and interact with.

I'm interested in the things that aren’t labeled, what I call the “secret stories” of the objects on display. I’ve eavesdropped on enough on enough visitors to know that they get excited about certain parts of the museum depending on their backgrounds and interests. I also know that when my friends come to visit the museum I have certain things I like to show off like the Pueblo Spider-man when he was still on display in the Comic Art Indigène exhibit, the Body and Soul exhibit, and the last panel of Our Peoples (which is I think is beautifully written).

I’m hoping to start a dialogue with the blog posts I write and get people talking about their favorite objects, exhibits, and places at the NMAI. Over the course of the next month, I’ll be talking to a range of staff members about the objects that have special meaning for them.

But first thing’s first: What's your favorite part of the NMAI?

Join NMAI Cultural Interpreters and staff from the Smithsonian Horticulture Services Division for Landscape Tours throughout September, October, and November to find out even more about the museum’s grounds and their connection to Native perspectives.

Image: Cypress tree and water lilies in the NMAI's wetlands. Photo by R.A. Whiteside.

Comments (4)

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I don't have a favorite part. I like the whole musuem.

I have been there, the whole place is mesmerizing.

I don't actually like it. I LOVE it! wew, this is a very cool museum. They have a cool place, and I agree with you Micheal the whole place is mesmerizing. Thanks for the good read and view.

Thats a very beautiful pond. Looks like a lot of water lilies!

August 07, 2009

Getting Educated

Large I am now at the end of my internship and during a "going away lunch" I was asked a very standard question.  “What was your favorite part of your internship?”  My reply was swift and immediate.  “I realized how truly ignorant I was about American Indians.”  I think this startled a few people, but this was of no concern to me.

I suffer from geo-specific knowledge.  I know many things about nations that come from the Sahaptian language group, one of the oldest language stocks in North America.  This is simply a part of who I am.  Once I moved from Idaho to Seattle, I focused on scholastic endeavors pertaining to nations in that area.  I, for whatever reason, felt that this afforded me a wide spectrum of understanding.  I was wrong.

Yet, this is the beauty of seeking knowledge for its intrinsic value.  Working in the Office of Education at NMAI has opened my eyes to numerous issues that nations currently face because of their geography.  Every nation has a different story, a distinct culture, and wisdom to share with the world.  There is a lot of power in realizing how little you know.  It allowed my spectrum to widened. Ignorance is now replaced with understanding. Knowing how very little I knew affords me a greater capacity to learn.

Comments (6)

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Good point! I wish I could visit the museum. You are so fortunate to be able to learn while enjoying all there is at the site. Indian people are so beautiful that it never fails to amaze me at how much there is to learn about the people. Good luck with whatever you do in the future.

Really interesting post. I read & appreciated.I wish I could visit the museum.

Good point! I wish I could visit the museum.

I love museums, especially those that expose me to particular cultures which are foreign to me. I definitely intend, someday, to visit this Indian museum and become more educated about their unique culture, their ethnicity and their lifestyles.

Thanks for inspiring me.

it is a very educational place. I am a teacher and took a class of mine to the museum this year and the way that it sparked their imagination was amazing to see.

Just like you many of us are ignorant and like to imagine that the entire earth looks exactly like the city/region we live in. All that until we are lucky enough to meet a person from another culture to open our eyes.