March 31, 2016

Curator and Scholar Mary Jane Lenz (1930–2016)

Mary Jane Lenz at the Research BranchMary Jane Lenz working with objects from the museum's Northwest Coast collections, February 1984. Research Branch, Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation, Pelham Bay, The Bronx, New York. Photo by Julia Smith, Museum of the American Indian.


With great sadness, I am writing to say that our dear friend and colleague Mary Jane Lenz passed away yesterday afternoon, having celebrated her 86th birthday on March 24. Mary Jane, or simply MJ as she was called by those closest to her, had a long and distinguished professional career at the museum, both when it was the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation in New York City and after it became the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and New York.

As an undergraduate, Mary Jane began work at Beloit College’s Logan Museum of Anthropology, and she remained interested in museums and museum work all her life. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Beloit in 1952 with a degree in Anthropology. In 1954 she received her Master's degree in Sociology and Anthropology from Bryn Mawr. For her Master’s research, she did fieldwork in the Tlingit community of Yakutat under the direction of the distinguished anthropologist Frederica de Laguna. 

After many years of focusing her attention on her young family, and prompted by a New York Times article about the challenges facing the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation, Mary Jane contacted Frederick J. Dockstader, then director of the museum. As a result of their discussions, she joined the museum’s staff in 1974. She was appointed director of its Archaeological Lab in 1976 and worked on materials recently excavated from Marajo Island near the mouth of the Amazon in Brazil. From 1977 onward she worked in the Curatorial Department, where she helped conduct a complete inventory of the museum’s collections as well as assisted researchers with their work. Mary Jane was also involved in supporting early repatriation requests from the Haudenosaunee, A:shiwi, and Kwakwaka’wakw nations, and in the return of sacred objects to the Omaha and Hidatsa. During this period, she continued her education by taking graduate courses in Anthropology at the City University of New York. 

Throughout her career Mary Jane curated exhibitions and wrote about art and material culture and the history of the MAI. In her early years at the museum, she assisted the curatorial team for the exhibition Ancestors: Native Artisans of the Americas, shown at the U.S. Custom House in 1979. In 1981 she wrote the text for the exhibition Arctic Art: Eskimo Ivory at the Museum of the American Indian at Audubon Terrace. Later that year Mary Jane traveled with Collections and Exhibition staff to set install the Ancestors exhibit in the Museum of Chinese History in Beijing, China, combining nearly 600 works from the museum’s collections and 80 historical paintings of the American West from the Anschutz Collection of Denver. She curated the exhibitions Out of the Mists: Northwest Coast Indian Art at the IBM Gallery in New York (1984) and The Stuff of Dreams: Native American Dolls (1986) at Museum of the American Indian; she also served as co-curator of the museum's exhibition A Gift from the Heart: Two Pomo Artists (1990).

During the years following the establishment of the National Museum of the American Indian as part of the Smithsonian, MJ worked with others on planning for both the Museum on the National Mall and the Cultural Resources Center, the museum's collections and research facility in Maryland. She contributed to the development and writing of two major exhibitions for the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian's Heye Center in New York in 1994—All Roads Are Good: Native Voices on Life and Culture and Creation’s Journey: Native American Identity and Belief.

Mary Jane Lenz at the CRC
Mary Jane Lenz in her office, ca. 2010. (Not shown: The hundreds of books, journals, and research papers that surrounded her.) National Museum of the American Indian Cultural Resources Center, Suitland, Maryland. Photo by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI.

Following the completion of the Cultural Resources Center in 1999, Mary Jane moved to Washington. Here she headed the museum's Curatorial Department and served as chair of the Curatorial Council for several years. For the opening of the museum on the National Mall, she curated Window on Collections, which is still on view. She served as a co-curator of Listening to our Ancestors: The Art of Native Life along the Northwest Coast, a collaboration among the museum and 12 Native nations that was shown in both Washington (2007) and New York (2008). She also took part in workshops that brought together Native and non-Native scholars, artists, and community members to produce the permanent exhibition Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian (2010) for the museum in New York. 

In addition to her contributions to museum publications—including books for most of the exhibitions mentioned above—Mary Jane wrote for American Indian Art Magazine and served on their editorial board and published in Art & Antiquities

Mary Jane’s special areas of research and expertise included Northwest Coast, Arctic, and Subarctic peoples, and the cross-cultural study of dolls. She devoted much time to improving the documentation for the museum's collections in these areas, and her book Small Spirits: Native American Dolls from the National Museum of the American Indian (2004) is still widely read. More than that, however, she was vitally interested in all aspects of Native life, world culture, and current events and politics. She retired from the museum in 2011, but remained in Washington until 2013, when she moved to the Boston area to be nearer to her family. 

These professional accomplishments were but one part of MJ’s life. She was the proud mother of five children—Patty, Peggy, Sue, Mike and Tim—and an equally proud and indulgent grandmother. For many of us she filled several roles, combining the attributes of friend, colleague, role model, and enthusiastic supporter during the years we knew her. She welcomed many people to her home on Capitol Hill, which was filled with books, the personal collections she had accumulated over decades, and—most of all—the incredible interest and warmth she brought to every part of her life and, by extension, to our lives. Her spirit and generosity—personal, collegial, and intellectual—will be sorely missed. 

—Kevin Gover, NMAI

Kevin Gover (Pawnee) is the director of the National Museum of the American Indian.

  

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It is a awesome article about Mary Jane Lenz. Thanks for sharing this article.

November 11, 2014

Statement from Director Kevin Gover on Suzan Harjo and Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom

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Suzan Harjo at the entrance of "Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and the American Indian Nations" at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian)

I wish to congratulate my colleague and friend, Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), on being named one of 19 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented by President Barack Obama at the White House on Nov. 24, 2014.

Suzan has worked tirelessly on behalf of Native peoples as an activist, journalist and leader. Her list of achievements is long and include being the founding president of the Morning Star Institute, a national Native rights organization that promotes Native Peoples' traditions, culture and arts. She is one of seven Native people who filed the 1992 landmark lawsuit, Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc., regarding the name of the Washington, D.C., football team. Her social and political activism dates back to the late 1960s and early 1970s when she was news director for the American Indian Press Association and producer of Seeing Red, the first Indian news show in the United States, on WBAI-FM Radio in New York. As a special assistant for Indian legislation in President Carter's administration, she was principal author of the "President's Report to Congress on American Indian Religious Freedom." She served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1984 through 1989.

Dr. Harjo’s history and relationship with the museum began over two decades ago as a founding trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian (1990–1996). She began work in 1967 that led to the NMAI, to repatriation law, and to reform of national museum policies dealing with Native Americans. She was a trustee of NMAI's predecessor museum and collection in New York City from 1980 to 1990, and was NMAI's first Program Planning Committee chair and principal author of the NMAI policies on Exhibits (1994), Indian Identity (1993), and Repatriation (1991), and as director of the 2004-2005 NMAI Native Languages Archives Repository Project. She now serves as guest curator for the recently opened exhibition, Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, and as editor of the accompanying publication of the same name.

I could not be more proud to see Suzan join the company of such illuminaries and cultural influencers such as Ben Bradlee, Dr. Maya Angelou, and Sen. Daniel Inouye. She and Sen. Inouye were there to sign the MOU that transferred the collection from the Museum of the American Indian to the Smithsonian Institution on May 8, 1989. Her continued work as an inspiring leader and role model has made Indian Country proud and we support her as she receives this national recognition and well deserved honor!

Kevin Gover (Pawnee)
Director, National Museum of the American Indian

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Really interesting post. I look forward to reading more articles on this site in the future.

Thanks

David Marks

To read this article I feel interesting. I look forward to reading more articles on this site in the future. Thanks for sharing.

September 22, 2014

Let’s Begin a New Chapter in NMAI History


This week marks an important milestone for the community of the National Museum of the American Indian —the 10th anniversary of the opening of the museum in Washington, D.C. I’m proud to say NMAI has helped redefine the way our visitors understand the Native American experience and Native Peoples, thanks to the generous support of numerous Native Nations, members, trustees, and staff. More than 25,000 Native Americans gathered for the museum opening in 2004—the largest gathering of indigenous people in Washington, D.C., to date—and we look forward to greeting thousands more over the next decade.

Director Gover NMAI-0283
Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the America Indian.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the museum’s landmark founding legislation; the 20th anniversary of the opening of our first location, in New York City at the George Gustav Heye Center; and the 15th anniversary of the opening of our Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland. These are fine accomplishments, and we are proud and grateful for what we all have done together.

There’s still important work to be done. Most Americans have been taught a limited—and often mistaken—version of Native American history. I still remember the stereotypes that defined my childhood: Indians were figures of the past, often pictured on a rocky hillside dressed in feathers and buckskin. It was images like these that made growing up as an Indian child harder than it had to be.

The true story of our heritage is so much more nuanced, complex, and fascinating. Understanding this complexity can help us understand our present and prepare for our future as a multicultural nation. This is where NMAI can play a vital role in the coming decades, and we are committed to taking on this role with greater focus and intensity. 

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Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, on view at the museum in Washington from September 21, 2014, through fall 2018. A more detailed caption for these photographs appears below.


Over the next quarter century, we’re committed to telling the authentic history of the Western Hemisphere and Native Peoples to citizens, policymakers, and policy influencers nationwide.  We’re embarking on this new effort in a number of ways, including through groundbreaking exhibitions such as Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, which is now open to the public. We’re also accelerating our efforts to work with educators, providing classroom materials designed to instill a richer understanding of our history as Americans. And we’ve launched an ambitious campaign to fund more than $75 million in projects that will sustain the next generation of our work.

We understand that this kind of change cannot happen overnight. It will take time and resources. But it’s my hope that our work over the next 25 years can begin to correct the deep-rooted stereotypes, inaccuracies, and omissions that defined my childhood and continue to contribute to the challenges faced by Tribal Nations.

Please join me as we retell America’s story and build understandings upon which the Indian Nations can achieve their highest aspirations.

                                                                                                —Kevin Gover

 

For more information on ways you can support NMAI, visit http://nmai.si.edu/support or email NMAImember@si.edu

Kevin Gover is the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. 

 

Photo block above: Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, on view at the museum in Washington from September 21, 2014, through fall 2018. 

Top: Examples of early diplomacy between include (left) the 1682 Lenape Treaty with colonist William Penn and (right) the 1794 Treaty of Canandiagua between the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the United States. The Treaty of Canandiagua, one of eight original treaties that will rotate on exhibit to preserve fragile documents from light damage, can be seen now through February 2015. 

Center: A display of pipe bags, represents both the importance of ceremony to diplomacy and the northern Plains Nations that were party to the Horse Creek Treaty (1861). From left to right: Tsitsistas/Shutai (Cheyenne) pipe bag, ca. 1851 (NMAI 8/8037); Sahnish (Arikara) pipe bag, ca. 1880 (NMAI 20/1400); Yankton pipe bag, ca. 1880 (NMAI 16/7255); AssiniIoine pipe bag, ca. 1880 (NMAI 12/7393); Numakiki (Mandan) pipe bag, ca. 1851 (NMAI 8/8088); Northern Inunaina (Arapaho) pipe bag, ca. 1885 (NMAI 23/1176); Apsáalooke (Crow/Absaroke) pipe bag, ca.1870 (NMAI 14/828); Minitari (Hidatsa) pipe bag, ca. 1880 (American Museum of Natural History 50.1/5350B); Shoshone pipe bag, ca. 1870 (NMAI 2/3294). 

Bottom: From the mid-19th century unti the present day, generations of Indian leaders have traveled to Washington, D.C., to remind successive administrations of the United States' nation-to-nation treaty obligations.

All photos are by Paul Morigi/AP Images for the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.

September 22, 2011

Kevin Gover requests the pleasure of your company at the opening of phase one of the imagiNATIONS Activity Center

Children welcome here When I first visited the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, DC, like most people, I saw a beautiful, elegant place with intriguing and informative exhibitions. As I watch visitors to the museum, I notice that visitors experience the museum rather solemnly. That is fine for the adults who seek a thoughtful and contemplative experience. If you’re a kid, though, that can be pretty boring.

And in fact we found that our younger visitors have a hard time finding fun things to do in the museum. So about two years ago we decided to take the educational resource center space on the third floor and make it into a place for families and children, in order to provide greater opportunities for our younger visitors to engage with Native cultures.

I assigned a project manager who built a team, and I gave the team one direction: Make a dynamic space for young people to learn and have fun. The team started by looking at other spaces and talking with colleagues, both inside the Smithsonian and at institutions in other cities. In the end, they decided on a space that children and adults alike would be comfortable visiting. They wanted a range of activities to cover a variety of interests. And they wanted everything to be immersive and hands-on.

This was a challenging assignment, rather different from the mounting of a traditional museum exhibition. It’s a different way of thinking, of designing, and of building. But when talented and creative people work together, good results are possible. I could not be more excited about this new space and what the staff has accomplished.

Iglu
We will open the imagiNATIONS Activity Center in three stages: in September, in October, and in early 2012. I walked through the space the other day and watched crews installing the September components: One group was mounting skate decks for the skateboard activity, while another was installing the shelf wall for the "snow" blocks of the build-it-yourself iglu. A third group was on scaffolding in the back, assembling the poles for our Amazonian stilt house, while a fourth was working on the interactive quiz show at the entrance. Our exhibitions development team is producing life-size spin puzzles and the skeleton of a giant basket. Boxes of supplies are arriving daily, and the final details for the opening programs are getting settled.

Amazonian stilt house
On opening day, September 25, we will have some very special guests—several children from the Amazonian rainforest in Peru, whose photographs were the model for our stilt house. They will be in the imagiNATIONS Center at 11:30 to talk about their home and their photography. Also, Kekaulele Kawai‘ae‘a, a young Native Hawaiian author, will read from his book at 1 and 3 PM, and Juanita Velasco, an Ixil Maya weaver from Guatemala, will do weaving demonstrations and workshops from 10:30 to 12:30 and 2 to 4 PM.

It feels like this day took a long time to come. We cannot wait to share this space with you, our visitors. I welcome you to the NMAI family and invite you to join me in opening this new museum space on September 25. I hope you’ll be as excited as I am, and that I’ll see you here many times.

—Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director, National Museum of the American Indian 

Photographs (top to bottom): At the entrance to the imagiNATIONS Activity Center, column-spin puzzles address several goals: inviting visitors to engage in hands-on activities, encouraging people to notice how different cultures express their unique identity, and letting children know that this part of the museum has been created especially for them.

The iglu activity space takes shape. Despite the woodworking clamps where text panels are being mounted at the left, no glueing will be permitted once iglu-building commences!

Dwellings from four different parts of the Americas—an Amazonian stilt house, iglu, adobe (below), and tipi (coming in phase 2 or 3)—help young museum-goers experience how cultures reflect the world around them. 

Adobe

Comments (11)

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Interesting read, thank you for posting the article, will visit the museum.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. You have a wonderful blog! Keep it up!

This is a GREAT post! I hope you not mind. I published an excerpt on the site and linked back to your own blog for people to read the full version. Thanks for your advice.

Learning history the fun way is a whole lot of experience especially for the kids. They love to use their imaginations. Bringing up this idea would not only nurture them with an American heritage but they could also have fun at the same time.

Museums are most likely for kids. From there they could gain more knowledge. It is a great idea that they make effort on how to make kids enjoy while learning.

informative information to the public, with the museum we will know a lot of history

This is a fantastic place for children to let their imaginations run wild. It can really allow them to "live" the history they learn, which is an integral part of the learning process. Thanks for the nice piece.

We hope you not mind. I published an excerpt on the site and linked back to your own blog for people to read the full version. Thanks for your advice.

Learning history the fun way is a whole lot of experience especially for the kids. They love to use their imaginations. Bringing up this idea would not only nurture them with an American heritage but they could also have fun at the same time

This is a fantastic place for children to let their imaginations run wild. It can really allow them to "live" the history they learn, which is an integral part of the learning process. Thanks for the nice piece.

Museums are most likely for kids. From there they could gain more knowledge. It is a great idea that they make effort on how to make kids enjoy while learning.

June 17, 2011

NMAI Director Kevin Gover visits the Southern Ute Cultural Center in Colorado

    LandscapeplainsThis is Old Spanish Trail country, crossed routinely by traders of the 1800s who may have travelled by horse or mule. They carried blankets and other woolen goods to the west coast and herded fresh horses and mules back to Santa Fe. (Photo by Scott DW Smith, courtesy of the Southern Ute Cultural Center & Museum)

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the public opening of the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum in Ignacio, Colorado. Ignacio sits in the Colorado portion of the Four Corners highlands. The Four Corners region is starkly beautiful and one of my favorite places in the United States. And it is Indian Country.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has done a terrific job of developing first-rate facilities for visitors to the area. The Sky Ute Casino Resort is a fine, even elegant facility, with large, well-appointed rooms decorated in earth tones. The museum is a short walk from the resort.

The opening was very well attended, with a strong presence from the surrounding non-Indian communities. NMAI Trustee and former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne) and his wife Linda were among the many dignitaries to attend the event. Not even the stormy spring weather in the Four Corners deterred visitors. A brief desert rainstorm greeted us as we arrived. All rain in the high desert is a blessing, however, and though our clothes were dampened, our enthusiasm was not.

     BasketweavingUte basketweavers like Adoline Eyetoo (picture above) from White Mesa, Utah, are considered to be living cultural treasures and represent a long-practiced artistic tradition. (Photo by Scott DW Smith, courtesy of the Southern Ute Cultural Center & Museum)

The tribe’s pride in the museum is evident, and it is a fine accomplishment indeed. The museum has a welcome gallery and a permanent exhibition that highlights the history of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. The permanent gallery beautifully and effectively provides visitors with a clear understanding of the history. It uses objects, installations, and media most effectively. There are interactive installations throughout that will interest both young and old. The museum at this point has a small collection, but has assembled an excellent group of objects borrowed from other institutions. The NMAI is proud to have provided over two dozen objects from our collections to the tribal museum. The highlight of the exhibition for me is the orientation film in a central multi-screened theater. Images of the Four Corners landscapes are accompanied by elders speaking of the history and culture of the Tribe. Executive Director Lynn Brittner and her staff have created a first-rate educational and cultural experience for visitors to the museum.

The museum was designed by Johnpaul Jones (Cherokee/Choctaw), one of the primary architects of the NMAI’s museum in Washington, D.C. He worked with tribal members young and old in creating a beautiful design that reflects the cultural values of the Southern Ute people. In addition to the permanent gallery, the museum has a gallery for temporary exhibitions, a large multi-purpose room, a library and archives area, outdoor areas, and a very good gift shop.

PanoramafinalThe beautiful new 52,000-square-foot facility celebrates the living heritage of Native people who have lived in the area for thousands of years. (Photo by Scott DW Smith, courtesy of the Southern Ute Cultural Center & Museum)

Although the Southern Ute Indian Tribe provided the capital funds for development of the museum, the museum is a 501(c) (3) organization and aspires to self-sufficiency through admissions fees, grants, and charitable gifts. The museum is governed by a board of directors led by members of the tribe. I purchased a museum membership, and I hope others will as well.

I am always moved when I visit tribal museums. Whether large or small, new or old, they can achieve a level of authenticity to which museums like the NMAI can only aspire. The stories of Native people have most often been told by others. Native communities have had to fight hard to have their narratives accepted and presented in educational and cultural institutions. Those narratives are presented most effectively, always, by the tribal people themselves. That is why a primary component of the NMAI’s work is in support of these tribal institutions. I am always pleased to see tribal artifacts in the hands of the tribes that created them. It feels like those objects, instilled with the spirits of the artists who created them, are at last home.

I thank Tribal Chairwoman Pearl E. Casias and the Tribal Council of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe for their hospitality and congratulate them on their achievement. To learn more about the tribe, please visit http://www.southern-ute.nsn.us. For information about the Southern Ute Museum and Cultural Center, go to http://www.succm.org/. And if you want to visit the Southern Ute Reservation, you’ll want to stay at the Sky Ute Resort. Make reservations at http://skyutecasino.com.

Here is a link to the Southern Ute travel story that recently appeared in our Summer 2011 issue of American Indian magazine: http://www.jonesandjones.com/news/publications_pdf/Southernutesu11.pdf

Another travel story from National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/2011/06/13/136931185/colorado-tribe-puts-cultural-riches-on-display

Comments (13)

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I love this blog. Indian tribe have dazzled me with its rich culture.

While planning a trip out to CO for the summer I found this blog. I am soooo glad I did! My family and I are now adding this to our itinerary. I think it would be a great place to visit for the kids as well as the wife and I - can't wait.

They don't define the Ute as much as the exhibits that tell of great hunters and horsemen, of tribal woman who carted around tepees and gathered herbs and berries, of a culture that was decimated, yes, but then rose again, reclaiming its identity, restoring its economy.

This is a great post,which has a lot of readers.

I think many could benefit from reading your blog therefore I am subscribing to it and telling all my friends.

Thanks

yes this one is really nice

Of course ! the blog is so nice and informative. Really thanks for sharing this blog.

t's a good article. I'm glad I found this blog because I am interested in the lives, cultures of ancient tribes. This museum shows us the UTE Indian tribe, which is a pride for them. It's good to have a site, like this museum for anyone to forget that had once cultures and also with the museum can buy tribal objects artists who create. Thanks for this information.

What an immensely rich culture! It is great that they now have this wonderful building dedicated in their honor.

Chris

Thanks for the nice post living in Utah I get to see a lot of Indian stuff out in the desert and Utah has some good Indian museum to see and a lot of rock art to look at and enjoy.

It's good to know about such kind of museum. To know the tribes of different region is amazing.

I hope visit of Southern Ute Cultural Center successful by the director.

Learning history the fun way is a whole lot of experience especially for the kids. They love to use their imaginations. Bringing up this idea would not only nurture them with an American heritage but they could also have fun at the same time.