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!


EdBlog Deer Hide
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.


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.


Comments (4)

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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.

Thanks for all this info friend, it's very helpful for us

Hi, Cody Harjo. Nice Blog!

Good Blog,to visit this museum but definitely intend to do so its a fantastic experience for kids.they learn more about this.

July 14, 2011

Happy Bastille Day!

Fireworks, French maids, and pastries, these are all important facets of La Fête Nationale also known as Bastille Day! 

July 14, 1789, is a French national holiday that celebrates the invasion by Parisians of the fortress-prison Bastille Saint-Antoine, killing many soldiers. Historically, the Bastille not only held common criminals and religious dissenters, but also political prisoners who displeased the monarchy—though in July 1789, the inmates numbered only 7. More to the point, the Bastille housed large quantities of arms and gunpowder needed by the Parisians for their insurrection. Ultimately, the Bastille represented a symbol of absolutism. This monumental day was the most dramatic of the early events of the French Revolution, though the more lasting achievement is no doubt the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, in late August of that year.

Prise_de_la_BastilleJean-Pierre Houel, Prise de la Bastille, 1789. Watercolor. Bibliothèque nationale de France

As an aside, among the better-known inmates of the Bastille is Pierre François de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnal, the last Governor-General of New France, imprisoned briefly in 1762 for his role in the loss of the French colony. Vaudreuil-Cavagnal, the first Governor-General to be born in Canada, was considered by others in the colonial administration of Louis XVI to be “too Canadian.” Vaudreuil-Cavagnal is recognized today for having maintained excellent relations with the First Nations allied with France. For insight into the complex diplomatic history of that time, read the account by historians Ruth B. Phillips and Michael Witgen (Ojibwe) of the Anishinaabe outfit assembled by the British officer Andrew Foster in the online version of the exhibition Infinity of Nations, or see the outfit on view at the Heye Center in New York.

Anishinaabe outfitAnishinaabe outfit collected by Andrew Foster, ca. 1790. Fort Michilimackinac, Michigan. Birchbark, cotton, linen, wool, feathers, silk, silver brooches, porcupine quills, horsehair, hide, sinew. 24/2000 et al.

How do the French celebrate such a colossal day in history? They party! I asked a few friends from Paris what they do on July 14. First of all, most people do not have to work that day, leaving the day open to watch the military marches on the Champs-Elysées. Many Parisians will gather with friends and family for lunch and dinner, complemented by pastries and followed with wine and champagne at the Eiffel Tower during the fireworks. Others will attend a party held on the Place de la Bastille. One of the most popular activities includes parties at firehouses where music and drinks ensure a good time.

Here at the NMAI, we celebrate Bastille Day by walking through the Saint-Lauren exhibit in Our Lives, on the museum’s third level. Saint-Lauren is composed of a proud Métis community that celebrates Métis Day with jigging and fiddling all night long! The Métis of Saint-Lauren have a traditional language called Mischif, composed of Ojibway, Saulteaux, Cree, and Canadian French. In the past, Métis children were discouraged by teachers to speak their language, rather they were told to “speak proper French.” Nevertheless, today the Métis raise their blue and white flag proudly to celebrate their French and First Nations heritage.

Claude Monet, Rue Montorgueil, Paris, Festival of June 30, 1878, 1878.
Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France

Bastille Day Waiters RaceBastille Day waiter’s race in Washington, D.C.

For those of us in Washington, D.C., let’s see if there are ways that we can celebrate Bastille Day! Interestingly enough, there are several fun festivities happening July 14 through the 17. Today at noon, there is a French maid race on Pennsylvania Avenue, featuring waiters and waitresses dressed up in maid costumes; the challenge is to run while carrying a tray holding a glass of champagne. Another French maid race will take place in the evening at 8 PM at the L’Enfant Café on 18th Street NW. The Café will host a Masquerade Ball Bastille fête starting at 4 PM, continuing through the night. For the better connected, the French Embassy will host a gala cocktail soirée in honor of Bastille Day on Saturday, July 16. Since freedom is an important aspect of American principles, the French Bastille Day relates quite well!

Fête Nationale, July 14th fireworks, Paris.

—Lea Toulouse Florentin (Anishinaabe/French), Public Affairs, with Holly Stewart, Web Office, NMAI

Comments (1)

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This is great post. So simple but full of knowledge.. Keep it up.

December 07, 2009

An Infinity of Nations

In October 2010, a spectacular permanent exhibition of 700 works of art from throughout Native North, Central and South America will open at the Heye Center in New York.  Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian will demonstrate the great depth of the museum’s collections and explore the historic importance of many of these magnificent objects. 


More than forty Native historians and community members have collaborated with the museum to interpret highlighted objects, including ten works that will serve as focal points. These key pieces will demonstrate the degree to which Native America was interconnected before European peoples arrived and reveal how the visual arts were often important vehicles in this exchange. 



Inuit tuilli or woman’s inner parka, ca. 1925, Nunavut.This finely crafted and elaborately beaded Inuit tuilli or woman’s inner parka, was made from caribou skin for the mother of a newborn baby. –The mother keeps her baby protected from the harsh Arctic weather in the warmth of her parka by carrying the baby in a special carrying pouch at the back of the parka. With the intensification of European exploration and trade in the Arctic in the 19th century, brightly colored glass beads, referred to as sapangat ("precious stones"), became more widely available and were used elaborately to decorate tuilli. This Inuit tuilli is the focal point for the Arctic region.

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That's a beautiful piece, I can't wait to travel to New York and see the exhibition. My son and I recently visited the Burke Museum in Seattle ( and he loved the costumes.

Thanks, Randall. The exhibition opens this fall and we plan to publish more blog posts about its development soon!

I liked the piece too.Its very beautiful.I can't make it too New York,is there any way to watch exhibition may be like online?

There will be an online version of the exhibition -- as well as a publication -- closer to premiere on October 23!

That is a beautiful tribe cloth. Thanks for the descriptive text on it. Amazing how they use it for new moms and their babies.

The posting is incredibly marvelous. You analyse in your round.I will go on to interest your other marvelous posts. I like this form of post quite a great deal.

I hear that there is an online version of this exhibition coming in the next few days - looking forward to it as Native American history is my hobby.

Fascinating! Reminds me how similar native cultures are all throughout the world. I am a native of north-east India on the border with Myanmar. I am from a tribe called "Paite". We are today about 45,000 in number. We too have costumes that are handmade in the villages that still exists. And the use of color and threads are so similar although the pattern differs a bit.

Wow!!that's a beautiful piece of costume, I wish I could make it to New York and see the exhibition. But I just bought a house and I'm broke till next year. However, you made my day with such a constructive piece of information. Keep the hard work...
Best Regards

I was enchanted by the Inuit tuilli and happy to find that there is many objects to see like this is the Burke Museum in Seattle. I will be traveling to Seattle and on to British Columbia the beginning of May. I will definitely go to the Burke Museum. Are there any places in British Columbia I should also go to?

Nice blog.
Very nice picture. I love all the thing report indians.
Thank you

I absolutely love the Indians. I try to incorporate Indian art into my designs.



"Inuit tuilli or woman’s inner parka... This finely crafted and elaborately beaded Inuit tuilli or woman’s inner parka, was made from caribou skin for the mother of a newborn baby." If I can buy this anywhere I would still use it for my baby to use during the harsh cold weather. I'm also into all sorts of costumes, but one in particular I'm currently loving are fighter costumes.

that's a cool mother's parka..

Thanks for the descriptive text on it. Amazing how they use it for new moms and their babies. Somehow I will go to the Burke Museum.