February 24, 2017

Porfirio Gutiérrez sees young Zapotec weavers embracing their traditions

The Artist Leadership Program (ALP) of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) was created to rebuild cultural self-confidence, challenge personal boundaries, and foster cultural continuity while reflecting artistic diversity. The program's goals have included recognizing and promoting indigenous artistic leadership. At the same time, the program has sought to enhance the artistic growth, development, and leadership of emerging student artists and scholars through workshops in the artists' communities. Here, weaver Porfirio Gutiérrez shares the impact of his experience.

Before he left Washington, D.C., Porfirio Gutiérrez gave this brief, informal talk on his research in the museum's collections and his plans for the community workshop he describes here.

My name is Porfirio Gutiérrez and I am a Zapotec weaver from Teotitlán del Valle located near Oaxaca, Mexico. I took part in the Artist Leadership Program in Washington during December 2015. My project upon returning to Teotitlán del Valle was to revive traditional Zapotec dyeing in the community.

Teotitlán del Valle is a very old Zapotec town, known for more than a thousand years for its fine weaving. The majority of the people are still involved in weaving in some way, but mine is one of only a few families who still have the knowledge of working with fine handspun yarn and with dyes made from plants, minerals, and insects. 

The greatest challenge in organizing a community workshop for young weavers was that we didn’t have enough space available for everyone who wanted to take part. Young people asked me to put them on a waiting list, just in case someone didn’t show up. 

The students were very excited to learn about their ancient natural dyes and the sources and techniques for making and using them. The community was also very impressed and proud to have the Smithsonian supporting this project. The villagers now know that there is someone raising awareness about the modern challenges we are facing, and this gives them hope! That is especially true for the families holding on to our ancient traditions.

I deeply appreciate the institution for giving me and my community this opportunity. It changed my life! As artist I gained knowledge and confidence; working with the Smithsonian brought validation to my work. The research I did at the museum and the things I learned in the program reassured me and gave me freedom to express myself. 

Most importantly, this experience is rekindling pride in Zapotec artisanship and craftsmanship, and in the community overall. One weaver who took part in the workshop said that she was very appreciative to me and to my family because we didn't keep this knowledge to ourselves and instead we were sharing it with our community.

I poured my heart out in the workshop, because the young people who took part will carry on with this tradition. Tomorrow they will open their hearts to the next generation, so that our culture is not lost.

—Porfirio Gutiérrez (Zapotec)

Comments (0)

    » Post a Comment

November 03, 2016

Artist Anita Paillamil empowers other Mapuche women by reconnecting them with their culture

The Artist Leadership Program (ALP) of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) aims to rebuild cultural self-confidence, challenge personal boundaries, and foster cultural continuity while reflecting artistic diversity. The ALP's goal is to recognize and promote indigenous artistic leadership. At the same time, the program seeks to enhance the artistic growth, development, and leadership of emerging student artists and scholars through community art workshops in the artists' communities. Selection for the program is based on the artists’ proposed research, proposed workshops or public art projects, digital portfolios, resumes, artist statements, and letters of community support. Here, artist Anita Paillamil shares some of the important things she gained from the program.

Anita Paillamil at the Museo Regional de la AraucaníaTextile artist Anita Paillamil (Mapuche) outside the Museo Regional de La Araucanía in Temuco, Chile.


My name is Anita Paillamil, and I am Mapuche. I live in the town of Nueva Imperial, in the rural area of Lliuco in the Araucanía Region in southern Chile. My main job is to create and reproduce Mapuche traditional textiles, made with sheep's wool and dyed with natural elements such as leaves, mud, flowers, and fruits. Also I dedicate myself to teach this art to Indigenous women who for many reasons have been left with no knowledge of textiles and who today feel a need to reconnect with their ancestors through textile art.

261561 + 176668
Mapuche woman's ligchamall (dress) and trariwe (belt). Dress: ca. 1910; central Chile; wool. Belt: 2000; purchased from Fundación Chol-Chol, a non-profit organization focused on economic development for Mapuche people, Temuco, Araucanía Region, Chile; wool yarn, dyes. 17/6668 & 26/1561. NMAI Photo Services.

I applied to the National Museum of the American Indian to take part in the Artist Leadership Program because tangible and intangible Mapuche culture is losing its impact due to young people's lack of motivation to learn it. Our parents belong to the generation that encouraged their children to stop practicing their culture because of shame. As a result so much knowledge and so many stories were lost. I was fortunate—everything I know I learned from my mother. So for me as a Mapuche woman and instructor of this art, it is very important to reconnect with our culture. Only then will I be able to transmit it to the different generations of Mapuche and non-Mapuche people, ensuring that the traditions will not be lost.

When I started my research at the museum's Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland, my main goal was to examine the collection of trariwes, or women's traditional belts, identifying iconographic patterns that were lost in the textiles that are produced today. My goal was to be able to reproduce the patterns, working together with the women of the group Wallontu Witral to which I belong and of which I am president. The trariwe is one of the most sacred pieces for us as a people, and I thought that during the trip to Washington, I would only get to see trariwes. When I got to the Cultural Resources Center, however, and started my project, I was impressed by the number of objects in the collections and the care with which they are treated. That was something I did not expect, because here in rural communities we see very old textiles thrown on the floor or hung on a fence. Also I do not speak English, and I was a little worried that I might not be able to communicate and work independently. I thought it would be difficult, but it was not, because the museum's whole team was very willing to help me at all times.

ALP artists 2014–15 at the CRC
Individuals artists who took part in the Artist Leadership Program for 2014–15 (left to right): Keevin Lewis (Navajo), the museum's outreach program coordinator; Lisa Rutherford (Cherokee Nation), Anita Paillamil Antiqueo (Mapuche), Jacob Butler (Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community), and Irma Alvarez Ccoscco (Quechua). National Museum of the American Indian Cultural Resources Center, Suitland, Maryland.


To all the artists who are applying, especially those who do not speak English, do not to be afraid of the language. The feeling of being there with some of your own living culture is invaluable, and the team is always looking for ways in which you're right! Do not be frustrated if you cannot be selected immediately. Do try again, because you can always count on the support and guidance of Keevin Lewis, the Artist Leadership Program's outreach coordinator and now a very good friend. It is also a unique opportunity to re-meet your own people.

Many moments I experienced during my stay in Washington were very significant, but what I think I remember most was my visit to the pre-Columbian collection at Dumbarton Oaks. I was not able to finish that visit because I felt very bad—not physically, but of the spirit. Looking at the objects and feeling the energy that was in that place it was as if there was part of me there and perhaps something that belonged to my family, my direct ancestors.

White wool black dye
Anita's community workshops explored traditional Mapuche dyeing, among other techniques. To create black, white wool is first boiled with maqui tree leaves, which turn the wool yellow. Oily mud from a local swamp is then added to turn the yellow wool black.

This made me think that this time I am living is something unique, something very important, and that reconnecting with our culture is a task that must continue. One of the ways to assure that is through my community art project. My goal is to share that experience with all who feel this attachment to nature and the land that gives us life, because it is important to preserve and disseminate the knowledge of our grandmothers.

Thanks to my trip to the museum, from February 16 to 20, 2015, I conducted many activities in different communities in my area, retransmitting my experience in Washington, much of what I could see in the museum's collections, as well as my own feelings as a Mapuche woman. About 200 people were involved in this project, mostly Mapuche women who have been my students. Now they’re continuing to develop traditional textiles in their own communities. Among the most important activities was the rescue of natural dyeing to give white wool a black color—important knowledge for Mapuche culture because black represents security. Also during the week of my community art project we had very important discussions about the protection of our textile iconography, as it is part of us as a people and belongs to and is characteristic of our culture.

I think the most important aspect of my experience in the program is that I have gained more confidence in my work, and more appreciation for it at different levels. I feel my role within my culture is to continue working so that knowledge is not lost—teaching women, children, young people, and all those who are interested in learning. When I was in Washington, I realized that this is part of my purpose in life—to preserve traditions, spread awareness, and support Mapuche women who are somehow reconnecting with all this ancestral knowledge.

—Anita Paillamil (Mapuche)

Comments (0)

    » Post a Comment

February 29, 2016

We’re looking for a special teacher, and it might be YOU

The National Museum of the American Indian is looking for a special teacher to play an important part in Native Knowledge 360°, the museum’s national education initiative to inspire and promote the improvement of teaching and learning about American Indians. If you're currently teaching in grades 5 through 12, that teacher might well be you.

What is Native Knowledge 360°? 

Teachers studying winter count
Teachers taking part in a workshop at the museum study a winter count. Some Native nations used winter counts to record an event for each year—from first snowfall to first snowfall—as a historical reminder.

Native Knowledge 360° (NK360°) provides educators and students with new perspectives about Native American history and cultures. Most Americans have only been exposed to part of the story, as told from a single perspective through the lenses of popular media and textbooks. NK360° provides educational materials and teacher training that incorporate Native narratives, more comprehensive histories, and accurate information to enlighten and inform teaching and learning about Native America. NK360° challenges common assumptions about Native people—their cultures, their roles in United States and world history, and their contributions to the arts, sciences, and literature. Native Knowledge 360° offers a view that includes not only the past, but also the richness and vibrancy of Native peoples and cultures today.

Teacher-in-Residence and Summer Teacher-in-Residence programs

The museum invites teachers to apply to its Teacher-in-Residence (TIR) and Summer Teacher-in-Residence (STIR) programs. These programs support the NK360° effort to provide educators and students with new perspectives about American Indian history, culture, and contemporary lives.

One teacher each will be selected to hold a ten-month residency (school year) and a six-to-eight-week residency (summer) at National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Residents will work with staff and participating American Indian communities to create dynamic online lessons using the museum’s extensive resources. Additionally, the resident teacher will serve as an advisor to and tester of online lessons currently under development. As a culmination of the residency, the selected teacher will create a unique project, activity, digital app, or lesson for national classroom use.

Want to know more?

Click here for a description of the program, eligibility, and application.

Apply now. Applications are due by April 1, 2016. We invite you to participate in this exciting new program!

Comments (1)

    » Post a Comment

Yup.

February 10, 2016

3D Scans of Inka Stonework—Live Online at SI X 3D

Capturing 3D data in Cusco, Peru
Jon Blundell, a 3D digitization specialist at the Smithsonian, capturing 3D data points of the Inka archaeological site at Pisac. Pisac, Peru, 2014. Photo by Samy Chiclla.

If you visit Cusco, Peru, the monumental stonework of the Inka capital will give you a sense of the Inka's imperial ambition. If you come to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., the exhibition The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire will show you how the architecture of Cusco reflects the empire's understanding of the Andean environment and principles of construction, as well as political administration. 

But what if you never travel to Peru or Washington? You can visit the exhibition website in English and Spanish or read the companion book of essays. Or, for the first time for this museum, you can experiment with a set of three-dimensional digital models of sites in Cusco, created by the 3D staff of the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office

The Cusco models are part of a much larger effort to make the research and collections of the Smithsonian Institution more widely accessible. The institution houses more than 138 million objects, artworks, and scientific specimens. At any given time, less than one percent of these objects are on display. Working with the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, and National Zoo to prioritize material for digitization, the Digital Program Office has set a goal of making ten percent of the collections available online, primarily as two-dimensional digital images. Smithsonian X 3D is targeting far fewer objects. But with web browsers now capable of supporting 3D imagery through webGL, Smithsonian X 3D is breaking new ground.

The Smithsonian X 3D website includes models, as well as a gallery of behind-the-scenes videos about 3D technology in a museum and science setting. Smithsonian X 3D's Inka Road page houses 3D images of stonework from five sites around Cusco, with notes and videos keyed to details of each site and, for Saqsaywaman, a brief tour: 

Waka Pachatusan, a sacred site near Cusco on the road to the province of Antisuyu: 

 


A section of Inka stonework along Hatunrumiyoc Street, including the 12-angled stone that epitomizes Inka dry-stone masonry: 

Screen shot of Hatunrumiyoc


A section of the original wall of the Qorikancha, the religious center of the empire: 

Screen shot of the Qorikancha


A section of wall at Saqsaywaman, the temple of the sun in upper Cusco: 

Screen shot of Saqsaywaman


And an Inka double-jamb doorway, one of three still standing:

Screen shot of the double jamb doorway


To create these models, Smithsonian 3D digitization specialist Jon Blundell joined the museum’s Inka Road project team in Cusco during the summer of 2014. Dr. Ramiro Matos (Quechua), an Andean archaeologist and co-curator of The Great Inka Road, and consulting scholars and other museum specialists on the project team worked with Jon to identify sites around the city for 3D imaging. This was the museum’s first use of 3D scanning technology. “Identifying sites was collaborative,” Jon says. “The team knew that 3D scanning was a tool they wanted to deploy to tell the story. It was interesting to work with them to figure out, What is here that would be compelling as a 3D model, could be captured in the time we have, and has a story behind it?” Once the team had selected the sites, Jon used a combination of laser scanning and photogrammetry—a technique that uses digital cameras and specialized software to create 3D data—to record the surface of each site as billions of 3D data points. 

Jon Blundell on Hatunrumiyoc Street
Jon checking his work on the double-jamb doorway. Cusco, Peru, 2014. Photo by Samy Chiclla.

The Smithsonian X 3D team has digitized other large sites—colonial church burials in Jamestown, Virginia, and a field of fossil whales uncovered at Cerro Ballena, Chile—but working in an urban setting presented different challenges. The City of Cusco provided extraordinary access to the places chosen for scanning, allowing the project team to use the streets at the three in-town sites for long periods of time. The manager of the Saqsaywaman Archaeological Park opened the site at sunrise, long before tourists would arrive, so that Jon and his assistants could collected 3D data, and other members of the project team could film interviews with scholars consulting on the project. And the owner of the modern hotel that uses the Inka double-jamb door as an entranceway graciously let the Smithsonian include that site in the project. 

Back at the Smithsonian, Jon used software to layer the information he had captured in the field and build each 3D model. He began by creating a point cloud. Vince Rossi, a program officer on the 3D staff, describes the data behind the point cloud as essentially a text file with XYZ values for each data point. This durable information will remain useful even as the museum community establishes new standards for archiving data and as software developers write new algorithms to make sense of it. 

The next refinement was to create a black-and-white 3D surface model for each site from its point cloud; laser scanning and photogrammetry geometry data was combined to produce high-resolution geometry using the strengths of each capture method. Next the photogrammetry data was used to projected color onto the geometry. The result is geometrically detailed, accurately colored models. In Cusco, Jon recorded perhaps 40 to 100 gigabytes of raw data for each site. Before posting the models on Smithsonian X 3D, he used techniques developed for digital animators to compress the data and create 3D models that maintain visual fidelity, yet can be downloaded quickly even on mobile devices. 

“That’s what our office does,” Vince explains. “We’re not inventing new technology. We’re leveraging tools that were developed for other industries and developing workflows—the nitty-gritty process of collecting the data and putting together the tool chain that gives us the products the Smithsonian needs. We’re using existing tools in new ways.” 

The Smithsonian X 3D staff compares 3D on the web today to video a handful of years ago. Museums have long had the technology to scan objects in three dimensions at very high resolution. But the ability to deliver 3D content directly to people online, without requiring viewers to download browser plug-ins, is a recent development. People can also download 3D data from the Smithsonian X 3D website, then visualize it in their own software or use it for their own scientific or creative projects, under the Smithsonian terms of use. “That’s more of an experiment,” Vince says. “We’ve already seen people do exciting things—teachers in the classroom creating 3D prints. More and more public libraries have 3D printers.” 

3D-printed Hatunrumiyoc puzzles aside (yes, Jon, Vince, and the third member of the 3D staff, Adam Metallo, have made them), what does 3D imaging bring to Smithsonian research? It provides scientists with new tools to document fieldwork and gives conservators a fast, accurate way to record and compare the condition of objects in the collections. It also enables researchers, and the rest of us, to do things that are impossible to do with actual museum objects. 

To get a glimpse of what that can mean, we have to leave Cusco and look at the 3D model of the Cosmological Buddha. Keith Wilson, a curator at the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Smithsonian’s museum of Asian art, explains in one of the tours that accompany the model, what distinguished this sculpture are the narrative scenes that completely cover the monk’s robe. On the Smithsonian X 3D site, we can turn the sculpture around to have a 360-degree view or look at a flat map of the carvings, but that’s just the start. 

“Nothing replaces the experience of seeing the sculpture in the gallery at the Freer–Sackler,” Vince says. “But if we go under the hood and turn off the color, that does interesting things, because the color of the stone was interfering with seeing the geometry of the surface. We can further bring out the geometric detail using an ambient occlusion map, which essentially darkens areas of high curvature and lighten areas of low curvature. We can adjust detail live in the browser. All of a sudden we’re better able to get a much better idea of the carving. This is still an accurate representation of the sculpture. It’s just a different way to visualize what’s really there.” 

Cosmic Buddha

This poster, which is available in large format (500 MB file) via the SI X 3D Download webpage (free and open to the public with registration), shows the components of the digital model of the Cosmological Buddha. From left to right: Photo texture, composite occlusion (note how the surface carvings stand out), geometry, normal map, and individual occlusion channels. A print-ready model of the sculpture in low, medium, and high resolution is downloadable from the same site.


“If we back up and look at 3D technology, it’s really nothing more than a form of measurement. We’ve been able to measure things for thousands of years. If we look at the way research at museums is generally conducted, it has included very accurate point-to-point measurement of landmark points on an object or specimen. With a 3D scan, we’re able to replace those few dozen measurements with tens of millions of data points. We’re able to provide whole new tools to researchers and open up a whole new world of investigation. By putting these models online, we’re also opening that world to the public.”


The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire is on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., through June 1, 2018.

The SI X 3D website includes more information on digitization projects at the Smithsonian, including a gallery of videos that highlight other 3D projects at the Smithsonian and explain the digitization process in detail. 

Comments (0)

    » Post a Comment

October 07, 2014

“So, what’s up with all those questions about treaties on columns throughout the museum?”

Treaties interactive a1
What's the story behind the purple columns around the museum? We're glad you asked. They're interactive learning stations for the
new exhibition Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American
Indian Nations,
 and we hope they'll prompt visitors to keep asking questions.

American Indian treaties are a topic about which visitors have a lot of interest and curiosity. Engage them in a conversation about treaties, and they will often shake their heads and say, “Oh yeah, those,” and then begin to ask questions: “Are treaties still valid?” “Do treaties give American Indians special rights?” “Aren’t treaties bad for American Indians?” “Weren’t all the treaties just broken anyway?” Starting with such foundational questions, the exhibit team that produced Nation to Nation” Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations is using a well-known educational strategy to attract visitors to the major new exhibition on view in Washington through fall 2018.

On the Potomac level and on the 3rd and 4th floors of the museum, selected columns have been painted “wampum purple”—a Nation to Nation design theme—festooned with the flags of Native Nations, and fitted with wooden interactives that pose and answer important questions about treaties. The purpose of these treaties stations is to pique visitors’ interest in the Nation to Nation exhibit. But their content is not just typical Q & A. 

The treaties stations employ an educational technique known as “inquiry-based learning.” The idea behind this approach is to engage learners in a discovery of the content, instead of just telling them everything you want them to know. The “telling” approach is not the most effective educational strategy and often results in something my mother used to characterize as “going in one ear and coming out the other.” Inquiry-based learning begins with something that is compelling—for example, an image, a question, an object, or a combination thereof—then encourages people to explore it. 

Interactive 1b Interactive 1c

Interactive-1-d
Panels from a treaties interactive. (Click
each image for a larger view.)

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


At each treaties station, visitors are engaged with a question and image or images related to treaties (above, left). Visitors then rotate the panel manually, but instead of finding the answer on the next panel, they find a new image, quotation, or excerpt from a historical document—something that requires them to think again (above, right). Visitors then rotate the mechanism to a final panel, where the answer is revealed and a more detailed explanation is offered (right)

Each of the treaties station columns has the words “Find out more in the Nation to Nation exhibit,” stenciled on it. Our hope is that more visitors will be intrigued to learn what is inside the exhibit by interacting with these important treaty questions outside the exhibit. We plan to evaluate the interactives’ effectiveness in a formal way.

So, when you visit the museum, try them out. We hope that they’ll help you build your basic knowledge about treaties and that you’ll find yourself thinking about the history of treaties and their ongoing importance before you even reach the exhibit on the 4th floor. 

Then let us know what you think.

—Ed Schupman            

Ed Schupman is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma and works in the museum's education department supporting exhibit teams and developing resources for K–12 students and teachers.

Comments (0)

    » Post a Comment