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)

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August 12, 2016

Perspectives on Museum Archives: An Interview with Archives Technician Rachel Menyuk

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has two public facilities, the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. A third facility, the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland, is home for the museum’s collections. This post, the third in a series of interviews of staff members who work at the CRC, looks at the career of an archivist.

Also in this series: Becoming a Conservator and Logistics and Detail: Museum Registration.


Describe your background for us. Why did you go into museum archive work?

I sort of got into archival work in a complicated way. Most archivists have a degree in Library Science with a focus on Archival Studies. I actually don’t! I did my undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Theatre. After graduating, I went on to New York University (NYU) to get a master’s degree in Performance Studies, which combines anthropology and theatre, particularly the study of theatre history. At NYU I focused on political theatre in indigenous communities in Latin and South America and also on women using performance as a means of social protest.

While I was living in New York and going to school, I needed to find a job, so I went to NYU’s library and asked what kinds of positions they had for graduate students. They turned out to be hiring a graduate assistant in the Tamiment & Wagner Labor Archives. During my interview, I said, “You know, I don't have any archival experiences, but I love libraries!” I later heard that they were so impressed with my enthusiasm, it was the reason that they hired me! I had also previously worked with Jewish organizations, so I had that knowledge base for understanding the collection they wanted me to process.

I ended up loving the work, and I especially loved the research process—getting my hands dirty with the information. That is one of my favorite things about working in archives: You really are able to focus on the research. The head archivist at NYU at the time really took me under her wing, and I gained amazing experience in working with and processing large, organizational records.

Rachel MenyukRachel Menyuk, archive technician at the National Museum of the American Indian.

When I finished my degree in Performance Studies and moved back to the D.C. area, I realized I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I began looking at other options at museums. I saw a posting for a three-month contract position processing organizational records at a “museum in D.C.” Though the posting didn’t mention which museum, they were specifically looking for someone who knew how to use Archivist Toolkit, which is a particular database that archivists use. I knew how to use Archivists Toolkit, and I had just spent the last two years processing huge organizational records. It was just luck that the museum ended up being NMAI. I had always loved the National Museum of the American Indian. I had been in D.C. when the museum opened and was taking a class where I got to review the opening exhibitions, and I really loved the museum and its collections.

That was six years ago, and since then I’ve become a permanent federal employee. Our former head archivist, Jennifer O’Neal, also really took me under her wing. I’ve been lucky to have some really great mentors who have continued to inspire me to keep learning about the archival profession, the history of NMAI collections, and the incredible value of working directly with Native communities.

What does your average workday look like?

The average day has changed a lot for me because we’ve hired more staff. Recently I’ve been more focused on processing, which means I'm working with archival collections that have not been organized yet. This is a long process of inventorying, organizing, arranging, and describing materials to produce a guide to each collection that will then go online. That is my main task right now. Once that is done, I also write blog posts about the collections, work with communities to look at digitization of collections, and deal with the transcription center. That is really what I do on a day-to-day basis.

Previously I was working a lot with researchers. Even though we now have someone who is working on that specifically, if someone contacts us about a collection that I know a lot about, I will work on that, which falls under the reference umbrella. I also frequently talk about the Archive Center on tours of the Cultural Resources Center. This summer in particular, I’ve been working really closely with our interns and helping them through their projects.

I do attend meetings sometimes, and the ones that I attend usually have to deal with cross-Smithsonian archival groups. There are 14 archival repositories across the Smithsonian, and we want to put all of these collections together online, which requires standards. I’m really embedded in that world.

So, my day can really encompass a lot of different things.

If you had to pick, what is your favorite object in the collections?

N27245
Frank C. Churchill (1850–1912), portrait of E-me-yob-be or Semo (Choctaw), 1901. Tuskahoma, Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. Acetate negative, 5 x 7 in. (N27245)

This is such a hard question to answer because it is constantly changing depending on what I’m working on. I can tell you a little about the collection I'm about to start working on, the Churchill Collection. Frank Churchill was an Indian inspector for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He went around visiting Indian boarding schools across the United States between 1899 and 1909, and his wife traveled with him. Together they took thousands of photographs (we have 30-plus albums!), and she, Clara, wrote journals documenting everywhere they went. Their personal perspective is obviously a little off, as they were all about assimilation, but the collection shows a snippet about this part of history that really needs to be remembered and brought to life. Clara was really good about documenting people’s names, so we can add names to faces, which is not always the case. It’s a really important collection that we can hopefully get digitized and give people access to.

Could you give a piece of advice to readers who might be aspiring museum or archives professionals?

I think it is really important to have some kind of subject interest, in addition to the practical archival skills. It will make it so much easier in the long run if you have a background in something, even if it is as basic as history. With that, there are a lot of dual degrees now. For example, one of our interns, Kelsey, is doing a dual degree in Archives and Art History so she can work specifically with artists’ records. Doing that type of program is helpful because you can’t get boxed into one viewpoint. You get a broader perspective, which helps a lot in the museum world.

Thank you.

—Lillia McEnaney, NMAI

Lillia McEnaney is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology and Religious Studies at Hamilton College; she will graduate in spring 2017. Lillia is a research assistant for Hamilton’s Religious Studies Department, the blog intern for the Council for Museum Anthropology, the webmaster for Art/Place Gallery, a content contributor for Center for Art Law, and an intern for SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone. She is a summer collections management intern at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resources Center.

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i heard lots of interesting stories through our librarian. The stories of some peoples are the most interesting.

March 31, 2016

Curator and Scholar Mary Jane Lenz (1930–2016)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Kevin Gover, NMAI

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

  

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

March 24, 2016

Searching Heye and Low for Museum Documentation

In the 100 years since the founding of the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation (MAI), many of the connections between archival records and objects in the museum’s collections—now the cornerstone of the National Museum of the American Indian—have been lost. The museum has been plagued with a reputation for having little information about our amazing collections. Some critics blamed George Heye, the original collector, and his purported lack of interest in recordkeeping and suggested that whatever documentation once existed was discarded. Over the last several years, however, the museum's staff has been working to correct this problem. A project has been underway since 2010 to reunite archival records with museum objects and ultimately restore their connections to the individuals who made, used, collected, or sold them. As you’ll see below, it has been wildly successful.

In 1999, ten years after the National Museum of the American Indian was created as part of the Smithsonian, the MAI paper records were transferred to the museum's Cultural Resources Center. After the transfer, it took the Archive Center until 2011 to complete processing those records. An earlier post by the Archive Center staff describes that project. When it was finished, the MAI records comprised more than 600 boxes of reorganized material, including correspondence, collector and registration department files, expedition reports, and financial records.

The reorganization of the MAI's archival records provided the museum's Collections Research and Documentation Department with a new opportunity. In the past, research on the collections began with an object and a search through the archives for documentation related to it. This very frequently led to dead ends, especially when people researched objects purchased for the collections. Take, for example, the Seminole coat pictured below. Its original catalog card typifies the limited information recorded for MAI purchases: The card gives no names of sellers or previous owners and no dates of manufacture or sale. And without names or dates, there were seldom any clues about where to start looking in the archives to find documentation about such objects. 

204884 Seminole Coat
Above: Seminole man's coat, ca. 1930. Florida. Cotton cloth, thread. NMAI 20/4884. Below: The coat's catalog card.

204884.700x700

 

The current project uses the opposite strategy: Instead of beginning with objects, we review the newly organized records box by box and match them with objects, photos, films, and other items in the collections. Based on this work, it has become very apparent that the long held belief that NMAI collections were poorly documented is false.

By piecing together bits of information and through plenty of detective work, we are reconstructing how George Heye and the Museum of the American Indian acquired the collections. We have uncovered connections between long-neglected documentation and objects, as well as additional details about objects whose documentation was known but incomplete.

Let's look again at the Seminole coat: In MAI correspondence, we found the letter below from Deaconess Harriet Bedell (1875–1969), an Episcopal missionary teacher who worked with the Seminole people of South Florida from 1933 to 1961, to MAI curator William Stiles. In the letter, which is dated January 19, 1942, Deaconess Bedell states that she is sending a councilman’s coat worn by “Ingram Billy”—Ingraham Billie (1895–1983), a traditional Miccosukee Seminole religious and community leader. 

1942.0103 Correspondence in chronological order
Letter from Deaconess Harriet Bedell to Museum of the American Indian curator William Stiles. NMAI.AC.001 Box 11.2

 

In a different box from the letter, we found a receipt for the MAI's purchase of the coat from Bedell. Based on the date and description, the documents seem to match a Seminole coat in our collection catalogued in the 1940s (catalog number 20/4884).

In her letter Bedell also mentions sending photographs. Searching in our database for photographs associated with Bedell, we found a photo of Ingraham Billie wearing this very coat, confirming the match between the documentation and the object. 

P15356 ingram billie
Ingraham Billie (Miccosukee Seminole Nation) wearing the coat 20/4884. Deaconess Harriet M. Bedell photographs, NMAI.AC.037 P15356

 

Although museum catalog records identified Deaconess Bedell as the donor of the photograph, there had never been a clear connection between her and the coat or between the coat and its original owner, Ingraham Billie. Now we not only know how and when the museum obtained this coat, but we have restored a meaningful connection to the Seminole leader who wore it.

This project has greatly changed our perception of the museum's collections and blown a hole in the longstanding belief that they are largely undocumented. In retrospect, the separation of documentation from the objects and other items they represent was more likely a result of the passage of time and evolving museum standards, rather than any lack of interest in recordkeeping on George Heye’s part. To ensure that the connections we're making now are not lost again, the project includes digitizing the relevant archival material and adding it to the collections information database so that it is accessible and can easily be shared.

The newly reconstructed story of Ingraham Billie, his coat, and Deaconess Bedell is just one of thousands of connections made by the project in its first five years. To date, more than 75 percent of the object collections and 40 percent of the photo collections have now been linked to related archival documentation. Not every document we find provides us with as much detail as we might like—it may only consist of a seller’s name and a date—but gaining even the slightest clue about an object’s origin gives us a starting point for research we may not have had before.

As part of our centenary celebration, this month we have added photographs from the Deaconess Harriet Bedell collection to the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archive (SOVA). You can now view featured photographs from Deaconess Bedell's collection online.

Check back next month for another blog on museum history!

—Maria Galban, NMAI 

On May 11, the National Museum of the American Indian in New York will host the gala evening Legacies of Learning to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of George Gustav Heye's extraordinary collection as the Museum of the American Indian and to toast the museum's century of contributions to scholarship and cultural understanding. For more information about the gala and how it supports the museum's educational mission, or to read about the recipients of the 2016 NMAI Awards who will be honored that night, visit Legacies of Learning on the museum’s website.

Maria Galban is a research specialist on the Collections and Research Documentation staff at the National Museum of the American Indian.

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Very happy to see the progress being made. Do you have any information concerning George Heye's agents' purchase of a large collection from Dr. John McGregor of Waterdown, Ontario, CANADA in 1916?

February 25, 2016

One Hundred Years of Museum History

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Museum of the American Indian (MAI), now the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). On May 10, 1916, George Heye—along with trustees F. Kingsbury Curtis, Frederick K. Seward, and William Lare—signed a foundation deed creating the museum as an institution for “the collection, preservation, study and exhibition of all things connected with the anthropology of the aboriginal people of North, South and Central Americas, and containing objects of artistic, historic, literary and scientific interest” (MAI Foundation Deed, NMAI Archive Center B153.3). The basis of the MAI’s collection was the approximately 175,000 objects already assembled by George Heye and informally referred to as the Heye Museum.


P11449 Laying Cornerstone of MAIGeorge Heye laying the cornerstone of the Museum of The American Indian–Heye Foundation. November 8, 1916; New York City. NMAI P11449


George Heye had begun collecting Native American objects in 1897. By 1904 he became serious about founding his own museum, devoting much of his time to acquiring and cataloging large collections. He hired museum assistants, including staff from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) who worked after hours to help clean and organize his collections.


Time card AC001 266-51905 time card for George Lentz, a museum assistant at the American Museum of Natural History, for his evening work for George Heye. NMAI.AC.001, Box 266.5


Heye cultivated relationships with collectors, dealers, and institutions that held Native American collections. He developed a vast network of ethnologists and archaeologists, including George Pepper (AMNH), Marshall Saville (Columbia University), Mark Raymond Harrington (a Columbia graduate), and archaeologist Theodoor de Booy, who collected material for Heye throughout the Americas. 

N10987 Supper at Heye MuseumSupper at the Heye Museum. 1912, New York City. From left, seated: Mrs. Marie Heye (George Heye’s mother), Harmon Hendricks, Thea Knowne Page (later Mrs. George Gustav Heye), and George Gustav Heye; standing: George Pepper, Theodoor De Booy, and Marshall H. Saville. In 1904 Heye rented two floors of a loft building at 10 East 33rd Street to house his growing collections. NMAI N10987


As early as December 1905, Heye sought support to found an institution with two facilities—one for exhibitions and one for storage, with research space for students. His motivation for collecting was not solely to amass a large private collection but to create an institution for the serious study of the people of the Americas. In 1906, after discussing his museum idea with philanthropist Archer Huntington, Heye decided that the time was not right to create an institution that would rival the American Museum of Natural History. Instead, Heye placed his growing North American ethnology and archaeology collections at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. There his objects were cared for and exhibited in two galleries from 1909 until 1916, when Heye withdrew them to create the MAI—much to the dismay of the University Museum staff, who believed he would ultimately donate his collections to their museum.

In the decade between his first conversations about building a museum and laying the foundation stone 1916, Heye was able to generate support for his vision of a new anthropological institution in New York. In 1922, the Museum of the American Indian finally opened to the public at 155th and Broadway in New York, on a site at Audubon Terrace donated by Archer Huntington.


Thea Heye N02173Thea Heye placing the first specimen in a display case in the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation, 155th and Broadway, New York. NMAI N02173


Heye and MAI staff members continued to collect specimens, sending out archaeological and ethnographic expeditions to the far reaches of the Americas, buying from other collectors, and traveling abroad to purchase Native American items that had found their way into European collections. By 1990, when the MAI became part of the Smithsonian Institution, the collection included more than 800,000 objects, the great majority acquired during George Heye’s lifetime.

If not for the determination of George Heye and the MAI staff who expanded on his vision, the National Museum of the American Indian would not exist in its present form. Certainly, it would not conserve, for study and exhibition, the impressive collections for which it is known. This year we celebrate the founding of the Museum of the American Indian and the many individuals involved in buildings its collections. As part of our centenary celebration, the NMAI Archive Center is adding the newly digitized George Heye records and correspondence to the SOVA (Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives). See an earlier blog for more information about using the SOVA and check back here for more blogs about the museum’s history and the people associated with it.

—Maria Galban, NMAI 

On May 11, the National Museum of the American Indian in New York will host the gala evening Legacies of Learning to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of George Gustav Heye's extraordinary collection as the Museum of the American Indian and to toast the museum's century of contributions to scholarship and cultural understanding. For more information about the gala and how it supports the museum's educational mission, or to read about the recipients of the 2016 NMAI Awards who will be honored that night, visit Legacies of Learning on the museum’s website.

Maria Galban is a research specialist on the Collections and Research Documentation staff at the National Museum of the American Indian.

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