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The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is dedicated to the preservation, study, and exhibition of the life, languages, literature, history, and arts of Native Americans. Established by an act of Congress in 1989, the museum works in collaboration with the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere to protect and foster their cultures by reaffirming traditions and beliefs, encouraging contemporary artistic expression, and providing a forum for Indian voices.
The museum will include three facilities, each designed following consultations between museum staff and Native peoples: the George Gustav Heye Center, an exhibition and educational facility that opened in New York in 1994; the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland, scheduled to open in 1997, which will house the collections for conservation and study; and the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., scheduled to open in 2001, which will serve as a center for ceremonies, performances, and educational programs, as well as an exhibition space for Indian art and material culture.
The collections of the former Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, form the cornerstone of the NMAI. Assembled largely by the wealthy New Yorker George Gustav Heye (1874-1957), the collections span more than ten thousand years of Native heritage, from ancient stone carvings to contemporary Indian paintings. Most of the more than one million objects in the collections represent cultures in the United States and Canada; many others are from cultures in Mexico and Central and South America.
As the only national institution in the United States whose mandate encompasses all the Nativecultures of this hemisphere, the National Museum of the American Indian bears a unique responsibility to address important issues of cultural interpretation and representation. Most attempts to reexamine old conceptions and come to new understandings of Native cultures and peoples have begun and ended, unfortunately, with the objects themselves, without addressing the complex thinking that produced them. Conventional art history emphasizes aesthetics rather than cultural context, whereas disciplines such as anthropology, which do approach Native material in context, have sometimes minimized its beauty.
From a Native perspective, objects of material culture such as those shown in this book are inseparable from a cultural context that is very different from Western European tradition. For most Native peoples, the process of creating objects has always been as important as-and perhaps more important than-the objects themselves. Whatever their aesthetic qualities, these objects are perhaps most powerful for what they tell us about the thinking of the people who made them. This book seeks to offer a new perspective on Native life and culture by illustrating how Indians from throughout the Americas have created aesthetically remarkable material inspired by their own experiences, cultural contexts, and world views.
Introduction by Charlotte Heth
"Growing Up Indian" by Clara Sue Kidwell
"Clothing" by Clara Sue Kidwell
"Household and Everyday Objects" by Richard W. Hill, Sr.
"Ceremonial and Sacred Objects" by Richard W. Hill, Sr.
"Expressions of Personal Vision" by Richard W. Hill, Sr.
Author Biography: All the contributors have played important roles in the development of the National Museum of the American Indian: W. Richard West, Jr. (Southern Cheyenne and member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma), Director; Charlotte Heth (Cherokee), Assistant Director for Public Programs; Richard W. Hill, Sr. (Tuscarora), former Special Assistant to the Director; and Clara Sue Kidwell (Chippewa), former Assistant Director for Cultural Resources.