March 27, 2015

Behind the Scenes of "Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America's Past Revealed"—Joya de Cerén

In less than one month, Ceramica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed opens at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. The exhibition is making its New York debut after first appearing at the museum in Washington, D.C. In anticipation of the April 18 opening, the museum is releasing four behind-the-scenes videos about research sites that are the sources of many of the objects in the exhibition. This first video looks at the Joya de Cerén World Heritage Archaeological Site

The village of Joya de Cerén, in what is today el Salvador, was abandoned more than 1,400 years ago, shortly before the eruption of Loma Caldera. Buried under volcanic ash, Joya de Cerén was preserved unusually well. The site has provided clues to the domestic life of the peoples of the area, as well as an excellent overview of early architectural practices. Many of the objects excavated there illuminate social structures as well, pointing to a culture whose people had a high quality of life, with a say in both the authority and trade systems within their communities.


Interested in knowing more about Joya de Cerén? Download the free exhibition catalogue and check out “Dwelling in the Ancestral Joya de Cerén Village,” beginning on page 23. 

—Joshua Stevens

Joshua Stevens is the Public Affairs specialist at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York.

Cerámica de los: Central Ancestros America’s Past Revealed is a collaboration of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Latino Center.

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October 27, 2014

Glittering World: Case (Almost) Closed . . . .

By Joshua Stevens

The National Museum of the American Indian in New York is abuzz as the debut of Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family comes closer. A little less than three weeks before the exhibition opens to the public November 13, people behind the scenes are putting the final elements in place, bringing life to the sketches, blueprints, and mock-ups that designers worked tirelessly to perfect.

A visit to the museum’s East Gallery right now gives a vivid sense of just how stunning the exhibition will be. Vibrant colors of crimson and turquoise give a new personality to the space, almost as if visitors will walk into a life-sized piece of Navajo jewelry. It is also apparent that much more remains to be done as prep work continues in every corner of the gallery.

Standing out among all the work in progress is casework that will eventually hold hundreds of pieces of jewelry made by the Yazzies. It’s easy to be amazed by how much planning it takes for every single case. Each case is inscribed with numbers that categorize it and map what it will contain. The exhibition team—led by Peter Brill, assistant director for exhibitions and programs at the museum in New York—allowed a sneak peek at the construction of the exhibition environment. A few snapshots give a sense of things to come.

Encasements Waiting Encasement Application Wall Section

Left: Display cases sit below panels where they will eventually be hung. Top right: Peter Brill shows how a case front will be fitted to one of the wall panels. Above: Within the recesses of a panel, numbers encode a case's location and contents. 

RetailCase LightingExample

Top left: This unfinished panel will hold several of Lee Yazzie’s best-known expertly designed rings. Above: Cases have been designed to strike the perfect balance of controlled lighting and ambient light, bringing out the brilliance of the jewelry in the exhibition. Right: This case will showcase pieces in the Glittering World Gallery Store, where visitors will have the opportunity to purchase unique jewelry inspired by Navajo designs, as well as work by fine jewelers from other Native nations.

Glittering World
opens Thursday, November 13, at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, and will run until January 2016. The NMAI blog will continue to post exclusive behind-the-scenes content as the opening nears. You can also view the exhibition trailer and join the conversation with the museum on Facebook and Twitter, #GlitteringWorld. Let us know if there’s something you want to know! 

Photos by Joshua Stevens, NMAI.

Joshua Stevens is the Public Affairs specialist at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York.

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October 22, 2014

Join us for a photo-tastic weekend! Photographers Will Wilson and Larry McNeil will be in D.C. October 25 and 26

This weekend—October 25 and 26—come down to National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., to meet photographers Larry McNeil (Tlingit/Nisga’a) and Will Wilson (Diné/Bilagáana) and be a part of their new work! The museum is hosting public programs with the artists in conjuction with the exhibition Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson, on display in the SeaAlaska Gallery on the museum’s second floor through January 5, 2015.

Both photographers will be working collaboratively with visitors—this means you—in the Potomac Atrium on the museum’s ground floor. Here's what each artist plans to do:

On Saturday, October 25, Will Wilson brings his ongoing project Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX) to the National Mall. Will has already taken CIPX to such museums as the Denver Art Museum and the Wheelwright in Santa Fe. In Washington, Will will use his old-fashioned 8 x 10 view camera and a 140-year-old lens to make tintype portraits of visitors to the museum. He will develop the tintypes in an outdoor darkroom adjacent to his makeshift photography studio, and he'll give each tintype to the sitter. In exchange, he asks for permission to add a scanned image of the tintype to his CIPX portrait gallery.

Will encourages his sitters to bring objects of personal significance to appear with them in their portraits. Please keep in mind that, depending on interest, there may not be time for everyone to be photographed. Will will be making photographs on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. and to 4 p.m. On Sunday, the portraits will be on display, and Will will be available to speak with visitors about his work. 

Larry McNeil will use this weekend at the museum to launch his newest project, Larry McNeil and the Art of the Digital Age. From the perspective of an indigenous photographer working in the 21st century, through photographs made with cell phones and circulated on social media sites, Larry approaches what he calls "the art of the everyday."

LarrySnow_Coolpix_2013 (1)
Larry McNeil. © 2013 Larry McNeil

Larry's project is interactive, and he and the museum encourage everyone to participate. He is uploading his photographs to project sites he has created on Instagram and Facebook. There he invites us not only to comment on his work, but also to upload our own images. We hope those of you who can’t make it to the National Mall will take part from wherever you are. By inviting dialogue and exchange with us, Larry acknowledges the power of social media in shaping and re-shaping our understanding of photography. Larry will be at the museum on the National Mall Saturday, October 25, and Sunday, October 26, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

—Heather Shannon

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

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October 17, 2014

The Art of the Digital Age: Sharing Photos!

By Larry McNeil

Welcome to the “Fun with Smartphones Project.” Pull out your smartphone and share your photos!

Photographer Larry McNeil (Tlingit/Nisgaá) 

The project's formal title is “Larry McNeil and the Art of the Digital Age." The National Museum of the American Indian describes it this way:

Through the use of a camera phone and social media sites like Facebook, art photographer Larry McNeil explores the art of everyday life as perceived by a contemporary indigenous person. Presenting hundreds of his own snapshots made around Washington, D.C., and informed by his unique visual aesthetic, McNeil invites NMAI visitors—in person and virtually—to add their own commentary to his photographs and to upload their own snapshots to his Facebook page.

I’d like to make this fun and interactive, because the emphasis is having us collectively figuring out what “the art of everyday life” means to you. I have some of the sites already online, and I’ll be at the Smithsonian National Musuem of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, October 25, if you want to show up with your smartphone and smartphone photos. We could play with different ways of making photos and just see what unfolds.

At various times I’ll likely ask you to photograph something thematic and share it on the site(s). I think that this will be fun and maybe even thought provoking, but we’ll see, because this will be a group effort.

If Saturday doesn't work for you, come by on Sunday, October 26, to see how the project is taking shape.

On Facebook just look for “Larry McNeil” to participate. Here’s what my page will look like:

Facebook_mcneil 150

And here's the link to that Facebook page.

On Instagram, look for “1_photographic” to participate. Here’s what the page will look like:

Instagram_mcneil 150

Link to Larry’s Instagram page.

When sharing photos on Instagram, please use the hashtag symbol #, followed by my username 1_photographic. It should look like this: #1_photographic.

If you find yourself in Washington, D.C., between now and January 5, 2015, please take the time to stop by and see our photography exhibition titled Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson!

Selfies are wildly popular on Facebook, so I decided to make one especially for this project. It’s me at the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C., and even cooler, made with a Nokia smartphone. How cool is that?

Nmai_bldgblarry 150

Please join us by sharing photographs. Thank you, and get those photos uploaded! All user agreements are between you and the companies, not McNeil or the Smithsonian NMAI. All McNeil is doing is organizing a place to share photographs on existing social networking sites. No legal agreements or any agreements are made with anyone with this project and no liabilities may be extended to any party. The legalese language is made between you and the user agreements at the social networking sites.

We want you to take an active part in this project. But even if you're not a photographer, please come by the museum's Potomac Atrium on the weekend of October 25 and 26 and share your thoughts, or just your curiosity. 

Sharable calendar links for the project Saturday, October 25, and Sunday, October 26.

Directions to the museum in Washington.

Larry McNeil is a photographer, artist, and scholar. He has been teaching photography since 1992, exhibits his work on a regular basis both nationally and internationally, and stays active as a scholar with research and published material. He has earned many awards for his photography and scholarship, including fellowships and purchase awards for various museum collections. 

The original version of this post appears on Larry McNeil's blog. It is reprinted here with permission.

Story and photographs copyright Larry McNeil, 2014. All rights reserved. 

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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

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.

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