October 03, 2014

Behind Every Great Object, There’s a Great Mount

By Joshua Stevens

The little things in life make all the difference, and those who work behind the scenes building the museum’s exhibitions know it all too well. Every small detail has an impact on a visitor’s experience, which translates to the success of an installation. Yet these details are also those that for many of us go unseen.

November approaches, and with it the unveiling of NMAI New York’s newest exhibition, Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family. Staff members across the museum and outside specialists are working to ensure that each piece in the exhibition shines flawlessly, telling the story not only of a family, but of a highly refined art form. 

Kelly McHugh, an NMAI conservator, shared photos from the museum’s Mount Shop showing the custom-made brass components that will be used to support the nearly 300 pieces of contemporary Navajo jewelry the exhibition contains—rings, bracelets, necklaces, and a variety of other jeweled accessories—as well as objects from the museum's collections that provide historical context. The snapshots below show the many different mounts the exhibition requires. Specific exhibit case numbers are written alongside the mounts on the ethafoam that supports them while they are in transit from the museum’s collections, conservation, and research facility in Maryland to the museum in New York. 

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Object mounts made by master mountmaker Bob Fuglestad and his colleagues Bill Mead, Bill Bowser, and Jon Pressler, and by the museum's staff mountmaker, Shelly Uhlir, for the exhbition Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family. The mounts were constructed at the museum's Cultural Resources Center in Maryland, then grouped by exhibit case for installation at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Photos by Duane Blue Spruce, NMAI.


More than 350 mounts were made for Glittering World, most by master mountmaker Bob Fuglestad and his team of Bill Mead, Bill Bowser, and Jon Pressler. The museum's staff mountmaker, Shelly Uhlir, made a number of mounts, as well. Shelly describes what the project entailed:

The majority of the mounts are crafted from silver-soldered brass, which is then covered with multiple layers of acrylic coating to make sure the objects have a safe place to rest. Each mount is custom designed and fit specifically to each piece of jewelry, then painted to conceal the work. 

They are hand-made works of art in themselves, but the best mounts are the ones the viewer doesn’t easily see!

Glittering World debuts 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! 


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

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September 03, 2014

Archaeology Fest—Get Hands-On with Native History at the Montauk Indian Museum

Archaeology Fest Poster


It’s not often one has the opportunity to spend a Saturday learning how to blow a dart or throw a spear, but the third annual Montauk Archaeology Fest, a free event hosted by the Montauk Indian Museum on Oct. 4, 2014, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., promises to offer this and more.

“Kids and adults love the hands-on activities,” said Lawrence Cooke, Montauk Indian Museum president and founder. “We have people travel from all over the country to participate in the events.”

Experts will be on site sharing expertise in many different areas, including:

  • Flint-knapping (stone tool manufacture) 
  • Fire-starting 
  • Tanning 
  • Earth-fired pottery making 
  • Wampum making 
  • Roasting/baking of Native foods

And much more!

“Every person finds their own interests, but many really like to try throwing the atlatls,” Mr. Cooke said.

The mission of the Montauk Indian Museum is to educate and enlighten the public regarding the long Native American history of the Montauk area. The museum is located at:

Montauk Highway & Second House Road 
Montauk, New York 11954

Directions: Take the Montauk Highway toward Montauk. Just before you enter town, the museum is on the left, slightly past the corner of Second House Road and Montauk Highway.

For more information, call (631) 903-9603 or visit http://montaukindianmuseum.org. A video of past Archaeology Fest activities can be viewed here.

—Joshua Stevens

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

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What an excellent event this should be!
Would love to be able to come but I live in Seattle :(

What an interesting initiative, this will help the students to put their views and get to learn more from them.

March 31, 2014

Anishinaabe Artist Maria Hupfield Takes a Crack at the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt in New York

 

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It's difficult to believe that 260-something, two-and-a-half-foot-tall eggs created by artists could be hard to find in New York City, but they will. And they'll be fun to find, too. Photo courtesy of the artist.


Forget oysters. For Brooklyn-based performance artist Maria Hupfield (Wasauksing First Nation) right now, the world is her egg. And she’s hopeful New Yorkers will have fun finding it.

A little confused? Don't be. The mystery surrounding what is likely to become one of the most popular Big Apple springtime events will be revealed when the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt kicks off tomorrow, April 1. Earlier hunts garnered much attention in the U.K. and Ireland. This year marks the event’s New York City debut.

Here’s how it will work: The organizers of the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt challenged more than 260 globally renowned artists, designers, and creatives—including Hupfield—to transform two-and-a-half-foot egg forms into compelling three-dimensional artistic masterpieces. The eggs are placed in secret locations “high and low” throughout the five boroughs. From April 1 through 17, the public is invited to take part in the hunt via a special smart-phone app, with incredible gemstone prizes from Fabergé serving as an incentive. From April 18 through 25, all the eggs will be on view in a free public exhibition at Rockefeller Center. 

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Left: Performance artist Maria Hupfield at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Right: Bandolier bag with Woodland decoration (detail), made by Hupfield of industrial felt. Photos by Paul Niemi, NMAI.


Hupfield’s personal work explores universal conditions, locating the body in relationship to self, objects, and place. She was a logical choice to participate, not only because she has made a name for herself internationally with work featured at New York's Museum of Arts and Design and the Vancouver Art Gallery in the last couple of years, but also because of her lifelong immersion in craft. Craft was a big part of her upbringing as a member of the Wasauksing First Nation in Ontario, Canada. She is descended from a line of “makers,'” as she calls them—Hupfield’s father is a boat-builder, and many of her aunts make traditional quill boxes.

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Hupfield creates beauty out of practical materials. Photos courtesy of the artist.

Accustomed to replicating everyday objects (a camera, for instance) in gray industrial felt for her art practice, Hupfield explains that she likes to think with her hands—to create things that show practicality as well as real aesthetic appreciation. “I work across different disciplines,” she says. Some of her pieces stand alone, sculpturally; others are used in performance to “activate them.”

When it came to cracking the design of her big egg, Hupfield admits, “I have never created something of that scale.” Hupfield’s traditional Anishinaabe culture, though, outweighed her lack of large-scale project experience. “My artwork is about ideas that are greatly informed by my upbringing and where I come from.” She recently used traditional Eastern Woodland floral patterns to adorn objects used in performance pieces that celebrate the exhibition Before and after the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes, on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York through June 13. Hupfield found great inspiration in the innate shape of the egg and went to work translating the her relief designs. 

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Hupfield's sculpture dons its gray flannel suit—a clever disguise for an artwork that hopes to pass as just another businessegg in the city. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hupfield contends that while she was given the same form as other artists, her egg offers something a little bit different. “It’s soft, huggable, and beautiful. You won’t necessarily be able to touch it, but there’s definitely a sense of tactileness,” she explains. “I'm excited to see how people respond to it.”

She’ll have to wait. Once ten people have found her egg, its location will be revealed. For now, not even Hupfield has an inkling where that may be. Event organizers expect the locations of all the eggs to go public by the end of the first week. 

One important thing you can know now is that the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt in New York is a charity event. Each egg will be auctioned off to the public online, with bidding beginning April 1 on the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt website. Funds raised this year will go to support Elephant Family and Studio in a School. 

Starting April 1, the event website is also the easiest place to go to download the egg hunt app.

So, where would you hide a two-and-a-half foot egg? 

For more information on the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt, please visit thebigegghunt.org/

Twitter & Instagram @thebiggegghuntNY & #thebigegghuntNY

Facebook.com/thebigegghunt

—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 interview with Maria Hupfield at the museum.

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wow that was nice information. I can imagine how creative you are.

Awesome post.

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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