April 10, 2014

Photographers Larry McNeil and Will Wilson Go for the Platinum

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Will Wilson's finished platinum print portraits. Used with the permission of the artist. 

Photographers Larry McNeil (Tlingit/Nisga′a) and Will Wilson (Diné/Bilagáana) have been invited to speak about their platinum printmaking at an international symposium on the science, conservation, significance, and continued application of the historic photographic process. Presented by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), National Gallery of Art, Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the symposium will take place on October 22 and 23, 2014. The two photographers are scheduled to speak on the first day of the two-day program. Tours of photo collections held by the National Gallery of Art, Library of Congress, and the National Museum of American History and workshops on the the chemistry of platinum and palladium photographs are offered on October 21 and 24.

NMAI has acquired platinum works from both artists and is currently preparing an exhibition of these important photographs. Opening on June 7, 2014, Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson reminds us of the role platinum photographs played in late-19th- and early-20th-century representations of Native Americans. The exhbition further argues that McNeil and Wilson challenge this problematic history by integrating the process into their contemporary practice.

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Larry McNeil and his assistant with a test platinum print of Elders. Used with the permission of the artist.

In preparation for the show, the two photographers have been hard at work in their darkrooms. Platinum paper used to be manufactured by photographic supply companies and was basically ready to use right out of the box. In fact, platinum printing was considered easy to do. This is no longer the case. The platinum process is now difficult and dangerous. McNeil and Wilson have to make their own platinum paper by mixing light-sensitive chemicals in a darkroom and applying the solution to the paper. The photographers use a printing frame to put the sensitized paper in direct contact with a negative, then expose the frame to light. Upon exposure, the image from the negative burns itself onto the paper in reverse. McNeil and Wilson must monitor the development of the print so as not to produce an over- or underexposed photograph. After exposure, they return to the darkroom to dunk the print in a chemical fixing bath.

I asked Will Wilson to describe the work involved in using a digital image to create a negative for platinum printing:

A contrast curve is the tonal relationship ranging from black to white. Establishing the contrast curve for a digital negative depends on several factors: the paper to be used for the final print, the platinum/palladium ferric oxalate ratios, the developer, the light source, and the negative substrate material combination. Humidity also impacts the curve. 

With my homemade platinum solution, I sensitize a Stouffer test wedge, which measures a gradient of tones in five percent increments from black to white, to do a series of tests to find the time that gets me to the dMax—the shortest time to develop the perfect black. I record this. Next I expose another test wedge at my perfect-black time, and this anticipates the entire tonal range of a platinum print. I let the new test strip dry and then scan it into Photoshop. 

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Will Wilson's digitally derived negative of his self-portrait. Used with the permission of the artist.

In Photoshop I use the eyedropper tool while viewing the contrast curve of my scan to measure the contrast values at each of those five-percent increments. You “build your curve” by inputting these values into an inverted version of your contrast curve, which radically changes its shape. You apply this new curve to your test wedge and reprint. Now you run another test strip, scan, and measure. This time your contrast values should give you a curve that is much more linear, with a steady, predictable progression from black to white.

Based on this test you tweak the first curve you built and test again. Hopefully you are very linear at this point. Now you use the curve you built with its tweaks, applying it to all of your digital negatives, and you should be golden for your particular combo.

One more thing: Bostick and Sullivan of Santa Fe and photographer Ron Reeder should be credited for leading me down this particular wormhole. 


Larry McNeil recently posted to his blog on the cutting-edge technology he uses in aid of his platinum-printing and his thought process for titling his newest work, which will appear in Indelible.

The photography symposium has received support from the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Gallery of Art. For a complete schedule of the symposium and to register, submit payment, or apply for scholarship funding, please click here.

Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson will be on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., from June 7, 2014, to January 15, 2015.

—Heather Shannon and Will Wilson


Heather Shannon is photo archivist at the National Museum of the American Indian and curator of Indelible.
 

Will Wilson , a Diné photographer who grew up in the Navajo Nation, studied photography at Oberlin College (BA, 1993) and the University of New Mexico (MFA in Photography, 2002). In 2007, Wilson won the Native American Fine Art Fellowship from the Eiteljorg Museum, and in 2010 was awarded a grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. From 2009 to 2011, he managed the National Vision Project, a Ford Foundation funded initiative at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, and helped to coordinate the New Mexico Arts Temporary Installations Made for the Environment (TIME) program on the Navajo Nation. Wilson is part of the Science and Arts Research Collaborative (SARC) which brings together artists interested in using science and technology in their practice with collaborators from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia Labs as part of the International Symposium on Electronic Arts, 2012 (ISEA). His installation Auto Immune Response was on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York in 2006. 

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March 14, 2014

Weaving and Protecting a History: A Conversation with Basket-Maker Kelly Church

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Baskets made by Kelly Church (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Ojibwe). Photo courtesy of the artist.


So many Native American artists are generational, learning long-held artistic techniques from family elders and passing them on. This Saturday, March 15, will be an all-in-the-family event in part, when Kelly Church (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Ojibwe) showcases her basketweaving skills during a day of demonstrations by Anishinaabe women artists at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Church will be joined by her daughter, Cherish Parrish (Match-E-B-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi), and by Jamie Brown (Pokagon Band of Potawatomi), Church's second cousin—both accomplished basket-makers in their own right.

Also featured at Saturday's event are painter Dawn Jackson (Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan), bead- and quillworker Naomi Smith (Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation), and basket-maker Whitney VanderWal (Pokagon Band of Potawatomi). The demonstrations are part of a series of programs happening throughout the day to complement the exhibition Before and after the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakeson view at the museum in New York through June 15.

Kelly Church's family has long been involved in weaving, using black ash wood to make cultural objects since the 1850s. Collectors' records confirm this lineal history, although photographic evidence came much later. "We made baskets before we made cameras"—these are the words that Church remembers passing from her "gramma's" lips to her ears. "We have a picture of my family working with a log and weaving as a group from 1919."

Church is extremely proud of her heritage. And why not? She was born into the largest black-ash basketmaking family in Michigan, so black ash has surrounded her since childhood. She learned to harvest it from her father and her cousin John Pigeon. Church later attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, the University of Michigan, and Western Michigan University. At college and in graduate school, she focused on painting, sculpture, and other forms. But it's nearly impossible to deny one's place in tradition. She returned to full-time basketmaking about 15 years ago.

The people of the Great Lakes region have made black ash a staple fiber in their weaving for centuries, says Church. "As Natives, we use what is available to us in our surroundings." Michigan's abundance of swamps and wetlands allow black ash trees to grow well there, she explains. Church works predominantly with black ash, basswood, birch bark, white and red cedar bark, sweet grass, cattails, and copper. She says her family owns a huge copper kettle once used for feasts and making maple syrup. "The purest copper in the world comes from the Great Lakes." Church began weaving copper into her baskets in 2008, and has recently begun to weave in silver, aluminum, brass, and gold embellishments on top of plaited black ash underlay. 

Church is mainly known for her woven strawberries and her black ash bracelets, but she also weaves frogs with lily pads, checkers games played by strawberry versus pinecone pieces, or ash wood frogs against cedar frogs. Most recently she began weaving baskets in the style of Fabergé eggs that open and contain other items within. While there are many new, intriguing ideas she wants to explore, Church also remains faithful to tradition, creating recognizable forms such as traditional baby baskets, black ash bark baskets, and market baskets. She carves Anishinaabe cradleboards and creates birch bark bitings, a form at which few people in North America are skilled. The technique involves using the eye teeth to bite traditional designs into thin layers of birch bark that are then woven into a variety of decorative objects. Church will demonstrate this process as well at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York this weekend.

What is it like to work with black ash? "Black ash is so pliable," says Church. "You can do just about anything you set your mind to with it." Church is amazed by the work of her daughter, Cherish Parrish. One of Parrish's sculptural baskets that takes the shape of a pregnant human figure—part of her Next Generation series—is on view in Before and after the Horizon. Parrish is able to create her tightly woven baskets because of the ease with which the material can be manipulated.

Beyond the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes is all about the history of the varied art forms found in the area from the past to the present. It makes one ponder the kind of relationship the Anishinaabe people share with the black ash. "Black Ash baskets have always been woven according to the needs of the basket-makers at that time," Church explains. "So, in the past they were needed for gathering, carrying items from the market. . . . [People made] fishing creels, baby baskets, and sewing baskets. Later, they made fancier baskets to sell to tourists, as money was needed for staples—food, homes, and cloth for clothes." 

She says modern-day indigenous people of the Great Lakes make baskets for their own utilitarian purposes. Today's needs are somewhat different, but all in all, tradition finds its place with necessity. Fancy baskets are meant to be eye-catching and pleasing. As in days of old, they are made to sell on the collectors' market to help support the maker's family. "We are influenced and live in a much different world than our ancestors, but we honor them in all ways still," Church says. That includes harvesting trees by family, processing the materials together, and weaving baskets for use and shoonya (money). "We still lay down our saama (tobacco) and give our thanks. Our basket styles and shapes are influenced by our everyday lives."

While black ash basketmaking has endured for generations, it is now an endangered by the arrival of the emerald ash borer (EAB), an invasive species of beetle that came to the Great Lakes region in the 1990s. Church is on a crusade to help preserve basketmaking for future generations by documenting the process, as well as how to identify and properly harvest and prepare black ash for weaving. Over the last deacde, she has been speaking at conferences to spread the word about the growing infestation and its impact on black ash basketweaving.

It is a tough battle with a long road ahead. "The EAB will kill 99 percent of the ash trees in the US, and collecting seeds now is the only way this tradition will continue in the future. We will end up skipping a generation in this process while we wait for EAB to die out or move on." Church says it will be necessary to replant the seeds in about 20 years, after which the new generations will have to wait another 30 to 50 years for the trees to grow to basketmaking size. A large part of her education effort involves kids who will have to reestablish the art form when they are 50 or 60 years old. Church will hold her fourth national conference to educate people about the EAB this fall.

At the same time, Church and other artsts have helped to keep basketweaving a living and ever-evolving art form. Basketweaving is gaining popularity in the Native American art world, and fine examples are highly sought by collectors. While adhering to tradition, Church says there is room for improvisation. She advises beginners who are interested in learning to look around to find materials with properties that can be used for weaving. "I weave baskets with vinyl blinds and ribbon, metals, paper . . . whatever is available and can be used!" She adds that the nature of weaving lends itself to relaxation. 

Church says she is excited about returning to the National Museum of the American Indian in New York this weekend. "We enjoy working with people and sharing our culture." The opportunity to show work and demonstrate skills at museums ". . . broadens people's knowledge about Natives and helps them to see the different styles of basketry, paintings, and art that we have." Beautiful as they are, basketmaking and other artforms tell a great deal about a people, their geography and past.  Humbly she expresses that demonstrations educate people on the nuances between different Native American cultures and serve to celebrate each unique culture and its arts.

Before and after the Horizon organizes objects using six curatorial concepts that frame entry points into Anishinaabe culture, including the idea of religion. When asked about the derivation of her surname, Church said "My last name is a mystery, but I did have a grandfather who was our Native preacher for all of his life . . . [His name was] Reverend Lewis White Eagle Church."

The artist demonstrations will take place at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York in the second floor Rotunda from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m Saturday. In addition, at 11 a.m. in the museum's West Gallery, Brooklyn-based Canadian artist Maria Hupfield (Wasuaksing First Nation) will present a site-specific 30-minute performance art realization as a "Living Tour Guide." At 2 p.m. in the Diker Pavilion, David Penney, curator of Before and after the Horizon, will moderate "A Dialogue on Anishinaabe Art," a panel discussion with artist and cultural theorist Robert Houle (Salteaux), author Gerald Vizenor (White Earth Nation), and curator Gerald McMaster (Plains Cree and member of the Siksika nation). Finally, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., visitors will be treated to the New York premiere of Robert's Paintings, a documentary by Shelley Niro (Mohawk) examining Robert Houle's life and work. A discussion with Houle will follow. Both the film and the discussion will take place in the Diker Pavilion. For more information about these and other programs celebrating Anishinaabe art, see the museum's calendar of events.

—Paul Niemi

Paul Niemi is an arts and culture writer and a Museum Ambassador at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. The quotations in this piece are from Paul's recent email interview with Kelly Church.  

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February 14, 2014

"The Return of the Native Son: George Morrison's Artistic Journey": An evening with curator W. Jackson Rushing III, Thursday, February 20

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George Morrison (Chippewa, 1919–2000), Cumulated Landscape, 1976. Wood, 48 x 120 x 3 in. Minnesota Museum of American Art, gift of Honeywell Inc. 2000.01 

 

Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison closes at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York on Sunday, February 23. The exhibition pays homage to the renowned modernist (Chippewa, 1919–2000) with key works—78 paintings, drawings, prints, collages and sculptures, to be exact—from all of his periods in every medium he employed over a nearly six-decade career. In conjunction with the show, curator W. Jackson Rushing III will give a lecture entitled "The Return of the Native Son: George Morrison's Artistic Journey" Thursday, February 20, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the museum.

Rushing, Adkins Presidential Professor of Art History and Mary Lou Milner Carver Chair in Native American Art at the University of Oklahoma, will provide an overview of the exhibition, emphasizing Morrison's personal and artistic journey, beginning in the woodlands of Minnesota and continuing through his time in New York and Paris, among other places. Rushing will also explore the major themes and styles of Morrison's career and how Morrison's abstract expressionist paintings and abstract collages embody indigenous content. Rushing contends that Morrison's understanding of who and what he was shifted, as it does for many people, throughout his life. 

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George Morrison (Chippewa, 1919–2000), Whalebone, 1948. Oil on canvas, 25 x 24.75 in. Collection of Kevin and Kathy Kirvida.

According to Rushing, Morrison experienced a gradual change in his thinking about his Chippewa (the word Morrison always used) heritage. "When he returned to Minnesota to teach in 1970, after being based on the East Coast for nearly 30 years, the American Indian Movement was underway, and he became active in urban Indian life more than he had been before." His background became increasingly important in his life and art. "Similarly, the art world's perception of him as 'Native' artist (or not) also changed over time." says Rushing. "That he 'made it' is clear, and my sense is that many younger Native artists hold him in high esteem."

While Morrison was committed to modernist expression in his art, Rushing won't commit to saying that he was the first Native American artist to embrace it. "Figuring out who was 'first adopter' in the art world is a tricky business and may suggest, wrongly, that some sort of game is being played, with the winner being the one who 'got there' first. 'Likely' allows for the possibility that someday we will discover that some other artist as yet unknown to us was the first Native American artist to use modernist principles. Frankly, I think that's unlikely. All my research indicates Morrison was first in that regard, but was followed, not long after, by a distinguished group that includes Joe Herrera, Allan Houser, Pablita Velarde (briefly), Dick West, Terry Saul, and certainly Oscar Howe." 

Before this curatorial opportunity came his way, Rushing had written about Morrison. He also knew him briefly and says that he was multi-faceted and complex: "[He was] plain-spoken, perhaps, but not simple at all. He was very well read and so knowledgeable about many subjects, the history of modernism being chief among them. His journals reveal his passion for poetry, philosophy, and science. He had a sly sense of humor and was a gourmet cook!"  

So, what does one need to know to put a show like this together? Rushing has had an illustrious career. He trained in art history at the University of Texas at Austin, focusing his Ph.D. research on the history of ideas in modern art. That and his interest in 20th- and 21st-century Native American art made Rushing a natural fit to curate Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison.

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George Morrison (Chippewa, 1919–2000), Red Painting (Franz Kline Painting), ca. 1960. Oil on canvas, 47 x 79 in. Loan courtesy of Dorit and Gerald Paul. 

"In my teaching and scholarship I have been interested in two interrelated subjects. When, how, and why did Native American artists adopt modernist strategies and principles in order to best express contemporary indigenous content? In other words, why did George Morrison, for example, think of modernism as a tool for expressing his own complex experience as a Chippewa Indian from the north shore of Lake Superior?" Rushing has also "sought to understand when, how, and under what circumstances did Euro-American artists derive nourishment (formal, intellectual) from Indian art, myth, and ritual."

Kristin Makholm, executive director of the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMMA), is a long-standing friend of Rushing and knew of his interest in the subject matter. She approached him about putting together a Morrison exhibition based on her museum's collection. "I was very keen on the project from the beginning,” Rushing says. “Once I had an opportunity to review the MMAA collection, I understood immediately the incredible potential for an in-depth retrospective survey of his remarkable career. My role was to develop a curatorial vision, develop a checklist, and write and edit the catalog." 

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George Morrison (Chippewa, 1919–2000), Red Totem I, 1977. Stained redwood panels on plywood form, 144 1/4 x 15 1/4 x 15 1/4 in. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Robert J. Ulrich Works of Art Purchase Fund. 2012.5

Rushing's interest in Native American art began when he was just five years old. He found himself captivated by a picture of a Plateau Indian parfleche, and the rest is history. In his 20s, he became an expert on Native American art while working as an art dealer, marketing primarily Southwestern traditional and contemporary works. In the mid-to-late 1970s, Rushing developed an interest in the work of Joe Herrera, Allan Houser, George Morrison, Dan Namingha, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, and early modern Pueblo painters, such as Awa Tsireh. At the same time, he began to learn about 20th-century Native painters from Oklahoma, including the Kiowa Five, Dick West, and others. 

Although Rushing says he could never pick a favorite piece in the show—because that's like asking a parent, Which of your children do you love most?—he does point out that spectators frequently identify closely with the large wood collages Morrison began making on the Atlantic shore in the summer of 1965. "The natural materials and the nature—pardon the pun—of his creative process are revealed directly in these objects, and people seem to fall in love with them." Rushing also highlights as must-sees for museum visitors Morrison's Horizon Series of paintings and his Surrealist works on paper.

New Yorkers, in particular, will find common ground with George Morrison. "Manhattan was one of George Morrison's home places," says Rushing. "He attended the Art Students League and had a dozen solo shows in the city, beginning in 1948. He was included in numerous group shows in New York City and was friends with many important artists, including Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning." 

Morrison was also a key figure in the history of the New York School, according to Rushing, something he would like to see more widely known and understood. “He matured as a modern artist in the city, and his work reflects that fact in an intimate way." 

While there's a lot to learn about Morrison, no previous exposure to his art is required to attend the free event. Rushing insists, however, that his lecture "is guaranteed to make people want to see the show!" 

 —Paul Niemi

Paul Niemi is an arts and culture writer and a volunteer at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. The quotations in this article are from Paul's recent email interview with Dr. Rushing. 

All photographs courtesy of the lenders and the Minnesota Museum of American Art. Used with permission.

Prof. Rushing's presentation, "Return of the Native Son: George Morrison's Artistic Journey," is free and open to the public. Click here for a listing of this program and other upcoming artists' talks at the museum. 

 

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November 08, 2013

Exploring the Education Learning Center at the Museum in New York

By Cody Harjo

The National Museum of the American Indian in New York presents weekly family-friendly programs and annual events such as the Children’s Day Festival in May and the Day of the Dead Celebration in October. Yet, we understand the timing of your visit might not coincide with scheduled programs. There are still plenty of opportunities for visitors with children to enjoy unique, self-guided learning experiences.  

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Object cases in the Education Learning Center at the National Museum of the American Indian George Gustav Heye Center in New York.

The Education Learning Center, commonly referred to as the Tipi Room, is located on the first floor of the National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center in lower Manhattan. Indeed there is a tipi in the room, along with animal hides, and objects for study in the glass cases. It is a hands-on learning environment that recreates elements of 19th-century American Indian material culture from the Plains and Plateau regions.

EdBlogTipi“Is this real,” is one the questions we hear most often. The answer is, “Yes! Everything in the room is real.” Many times when people ask, “Is this real?” they are really wondering if an object is a historical item. Regarding the tipi, a more accurate response is, “Yes, it is a modern tipi with a canvas cover. The historical tipi covers were made from buffalo hides.” The tipi liner is also made of canvas and painted by award-winning ledger artist Tom Haukaas (Lakota). The tipi is an excellent example of cultures’ adapting modern materials for the continuation of traditional practices. All items are recent acquisitions, proof that many people still practice their traditional arts!

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Above, from top to bottom: Hands-on objects in the Education Learning Center at the museum in New York include a modern tipi with tipi liner painted by Tom Haukaas (Lakota); buffalo hide; deer hide in rawhide form.

The Education Learning Center also contains a buffalo hide and a stretched deer hide in rawhide form. Both hides are part of the museum’s handling collection. Feel free to touch them! A looped video explains the hide tanning process.

After you watch the video, compare and contrast the thickness of the buffalo hide to that of the deer hide. Buffalo hides are thicker and harder to cut, and thus were not typically used to make clothing. Hides such as deer and elk are more suitable for clothing. Uses for buffalo hides include ornamental robes, bedding, and tipi covers. As demonstrated in the video, rawhide is the form in which the hide exists before it is softened. Rawhide is used to produce many items, such as drums and parfleches.

The Tipi Room is also an excellent place to introduce the concept of culture associated with regions, as tipis are very specific to certain Great Plains cultures, such as the Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Sioux. The idea of organizing the study of cultures by region is illustrated by the permanent exhibition Infinity of Nations, located off the Rotunda on the second floor. Continue to this gallery to study historical objects made from the two types of hides examined in the Education Learning Center.

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Ed BlogComanchemocsAbove: Lakota box-and-border robe. Probably South Dakota, ca. 1865. Deer hide, glass beads; National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (11/1739). Right: Comanche leggings & moccasins. Oklahoma, ca. 1890. Deer hide, ochre, glass beads, horsehair, feathers, silk, beads, metal cones, pigment. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (2/1506 & 2/1833). On view at the museum in New York in the permanent exhibition Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian.

These are just two examples of museum objects made from buffalo and deer hide. Study the gallery labels to discover the many uses of buffalo, deer, and other types of hides. It is amazing to see how craftsmanship and artistry can transform hide into objects of beauty and function.

Depending on which museum entrance you use, you might immediately find the Tipi Room. It is easily visible from first-floor entrance. The monumental staircase and portico lead to the second-floor entrance. From there you can  proceed to the first floor via elevator or stairs. Enjoy your visit! 

All photos by Cody Harjo, NMAI.

Cody Harjo (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Otoe, and Creek) served as a cultural interpreter at the National Museum of the American in New York from 2008 to 2013. She is a fall 2013 graduate of the New School’s M.A. program in Media Studies.

 

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I'm yet to visit this museum but definitely intend to do so.

I have friends who have - they say its a fantastic experience for kids.

September 07, 2013

Revealing Ancestral Central America, a symposium at the museum in Washington, Sunday, September 8, 2013

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Ulúa River female figure, 900–200 BC. Campo Dos (United Fruit Company Farm 2), Cortés Department, Honduras. Pottery. Collected or excavated by Gregory Mason, acquired by MAI, 1932. 7.2 × 5.5 × 11.25 cm (18/3091). Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI


This Sunday, September 8, from 10:30 AM to 3:45 PM EDT, the Smithsonian Latino Center and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., will host Revealing Ancestral Central America, a symposium presenting current scholarship into the interpretation and recovery of Central America’s rich indigenous heritage. For those unable to attend the symposium in person, the program will be webcast live. (A link to the archived broadcast will also be posted on the NMAI YouTube Channel later in the week.)

Revealing Ancestral Central America and the related exhibition, Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed, on view at the museum in Washington through February 1, 2015, are products of the happy discovery by researchers from the Latino Center that the museum’s holdings include one of the largest and most significant collections of Central American archaeological objects in the world—some 17,000 pieces, including more than 10,000 intact vessels, few of which had been studied or exhibited.

In her essay for the companion book to the exhibition and symposium, Rosemary A. Joyce, professor of archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley, offers a glimpse of the kinds of knowledge to be gained from such a collection:

Take as an example an assemblage [of some 400 objects] recovered from a site in the Ulúa river valley in Honduras, called Farm Two by Gregory Mason, who collected the materials for the Heye Foundation [the New York institution that became Museum of the American Indian (MAI) and, in 1989, the National Museum of the American Indian]. . . .

Obsidian, jade, and marine shell were imported from distances ranging from thirty to more than 250 kilometers. While most of the painted and mold-made pottery was locally crafted, some dishes came from Belize or Guatemala, some jars from the Sulaco valley to the east. And all this from a rural village whose modest houses were made of poles, covered with clay, topped with straw roofs. . . .

At scales ranging from larger-than-life stone sculptures depicting humans and supernatural beings to the intimacy of jewelry . . . , it is evident that the people of pre-16th-century Central American societies lived in a visually rich, materially luxurious world. Nor was this visual and material richness limited to a small, privileged group. Even in the most stratified and unequal societies in the region, such as those of the Classic Maya (ca. AD 250–850), research in rural locations like the well-preserved village of Joya del Cerén, El Salvador, shows that farmers owned dozens of pottery vessels, many of them brightly painted or modeled into the shapes of fantastic animals. . . .

In contrast to earlier generations of scholars, who focused on economic and political stratification to describe pre-Hispanic Central America, Dr. Joyce and her colleagues are re-creating a more complex, detailed picture: 

. . . [A] chain of societies connected through intentional human action leading to travel, exchange, and participation by visitors in social events. . . .

The dazzling objects in collections established by archaeologists and museums are making visible what we should have known all along: between the apparently small, isolated villages of Central American there existed enduring ties composed of social relations, respect for beliefs about the place of humans in the cosmos, and shared appreciation for items of beauty and the materials from which they could be made. 

Prof. Joyce's symposium presentation, "What Archaeology Reveals about Central America's Past," will be followed by "Interethnic Relations and Multicultural Landscapes in Ancestral Central America," by John Hoopes (Kansas State); "Indigenous Heritage in Central America Today," by Victor Monteyo (Jakaltek Maya; University of California, Davis) and Georgina Hernández (Museo de la Palabra y Memoria, El Salvador); and "Perserving Central America's Patrimony," by the Hon. Muni Figueres (Ambassador of Costa Rica), Fabio Amador (National Geographic), Francisco Ulloa–Corrales (National Museum of Costa Rica), and Prof. Joyce.

We hope you can attend the symposium and see the exhibition in person. But if not, a wealth of materials are available on line—not simply the live webcast (and eventually the archived video on the NMAI YouTube Channel), but the exhibition website in Spanish and English, and the complete catalog, edited by Dr. Joyce, as a downloadable pdf.

Revealing Ancestral Central America 
Sunday, September 8, 2013
10:30 AM to 3:45 PM EDT
Rasmuson Theater, National Museum of the American Indian
4th & Independence SW, Washington, DC

This program received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Excerpt from: Joyce, Rosemary A., “Surrounded by Beauty: Central America before 1500,” in Revealing Ancestral Central America, ed. Rosemary A. Joyce, 13–21 (Washington, DC: The Smithsonian Latino Center and the National Museum of the American Indian, 2013). 

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I hope carbon dating has been done on these objects, i would love to read more on this.

I never saw that kind of rare images ever. It's really a good one with well explained blog about the unique topic.