Celebrate indigenous contributions to environmental sustainability, knowledge and traditions at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian’s third annual Living Earth Festival, presented from Friday, July 20, through Sunday, July 22. This year’s festival features an organic farmers market, an outdoor cooking competition, music and dance performances, hands-on workshops about gardening, goat cheese and basketry, as well as discussions about the impact of climate change on marine habitats and concerns over genetically modified foods.
Tomorrow afternoon, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is hosting a free outdoor concert to kick off their yearly Indian Summer Showcase. This year, the Indian Country/Country Indian concert will feature Victoria Blackie (Navajo), Rebecca Miller (Six Nations, Canada), and Becky Hobbs (Cherokee). The concert will take place at 5 pm outside on the Welcome Plaza in front of the museum’s main entrance.
I was fortunate enough to squeeze some time from Victoria and Becky to talk about their music, their heritage, and what inspires them in their artistry.
First, there’s Victoria Blackie. Last year’s winner of the Debut Artist of the Year at the Native American Music Awards, she also performed at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her voice has been described as powerful with lots of soul, hearkening back to the days of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and other female greats of the past. And don’t let her small stature fool you (she’s 5’1”); her voice is strong enough to pull you in and versatile enough to appeal to a wide range of country enthusiasts.
As spring unfolds in DC and the cherry blossoms begin to bloom, the crowds will come to the Tidal Basin area. So if you’re looking for something else to do in town to avoid the tourista hordes, check out some of the great programs at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian.
This month at SAAM:
Women Building History: Public Art at the 1893 Columbian Exposition March 3, 7 p.m.
Wanda Corn describes the neoclassical Woman’s Building at the 1893 Exposition in Chicago—which celebrated modern woman’s progress in education, the arts, and science at the end of the nineteenth century—and how the building’s content was used to promote the expansion of opportunities for women. A book signing follows.
Ask someone on the street about Native American history and more often than not, they’ll most likely recall the “Thanksgiving story,” the Indian Wars of the late nineteenth century, “Custer’s Last Stand,” or probably the (abysmal) movie Dances With Wolves. It’s an era of our nation’s history that I think many know little about – or choose to look the other way – and I cannot blame them for it. It’s not a pretty period of history, nor is it exactly the United States’ most proudest collection of moments.
When I saw the National Museum of the American Indian’s (NMAI) press release regarding the variety of activities in celebration of Native American Indian Heritage Month, one of the events that caught my eye was today’s lecture with NMAI Director Kevin Gover and museum historian Mark Hirsch. They were speaking regarding a book the Smithsonian released last year, American Indians, American Presidents: A History, edited by Clifford E. Trafzer. While I couldn’t attend the lecture, I had wanted to interview both Director Gover and Mr. Hirsch regarding the book and its impact but despite both NMAI and my best efforts, we couldn’t quite make things work out.
Nonetheless, I decided to forge ahead with a look at this book – even though it was released last year – for a variety of reasons. Native American history is a subject very close to me, for starters, and is an era of history I feel is mostly glossed over in classrooms. The struggle of Native Americans during this country’s formation and rise to power is something that cannot be ignored and, I believe, contains lessons for our future as a nation and as a people.
So I asked NMAI for a copy of the book, eager to see what new perspectives awaited within. And…I was left wanting. Continue reading →
Opening today at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is a new exhibition that will run through August 8, 2010. Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort is a major exhibit showcasing the critically acclaimed works of the Canadian-based artist and is his first exhibition organized by a Native American museum. Jungen’s work has been on display around the world, including the Casey Kaplan Gallery in New York, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal in Quebec, and the Witte de With in the Netherlands.
The NMAI’s first solo exhibition since its opening in 2004, Strange Comfort is exactly that. The stunning “Crux” is your first view of Jungen’s work – recognizable from the crocodile piece show in the recent ads around town – and only continues to intrigue and inspire when you visit the main gallery on the third floor.
Jungen, of Dunne-za First Nations and Swiss-Canadian ancestry, explores several themes through his art. The use of every-day objects to create Indian cultural icons is something very different, born from Native ingenuity of crafting one object out of another, a common practice with many First Nation people. Jungen commented in the NMAI’s press release that he grew up watching his Dunne-za relatives recycle everything from car parts to shoe boxes. “It was a kind of salvaging born out of practical and economic necessity, and it greatly influenced how I see the world as an artist.”
On one of the first springtime Saturdays in April, I managed to slip down to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to catch its associate curator, Paul Chaat Smith, read from his latest book Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong. Not exactly an event to herald the death of a wet, extended winter, but the book title and press release had my attention. I wanted to know more about the book – and the man behind it. Spring, for the moment, could wait.
I wasn’t disappointed.
To understand the author is to understand the book that much more. It’s less a cohesive treatise on any particular point – and if you’re looking for a “top ten” list based on the title, you’ll be sorely disappointed. As Paul stated, “It’s a book title, folks, not to be taken literally. Of course I don’t mean everything, just most things. And ‘you’ really means we, as in all of us.”
It was sad to me, back in 2006, when the National Museum of American History (NMAH) closed its doors. My wife and I, when first we met, had a very delightful time wandering its halls when she had first come down from Pittsburgh. It’s a special place, for us. I knew that they were working to make it a brighter, more modern place, having not undergone significant renewal since its opening in 1964. It was due for a renovation. Tomorrow morning, at 9am, the ribbon will be cut, and the NMAH will again be open to the public, a combination of new and old, of historic talismans and of high technology.
Yesterday, at the re-dedication of the museum, there was no shortage of fanfare and pomp. The Army District of Washington’s fife and drum corps was present, a brass quintet from the Army Band played, and one of their vocalists sang the national anthem. The President gave a short speech on the importance of the Smithsonian, and what their collection represents in terms of national ideals. President Bush and the First Lady have arranged for the handwritten White House copy of the Gettysburg Address to be on display with the Museum until early January, and you can stand just inches from the famous text, handwritten by President Lincoln. Around the corner is the book in which that speech appeared, as it was part of a fundraising effort in 1864 for the Union Army. Also included was the original copy of the Star Spangled Banner, in Francis Scott Key’s own hand. Continue reading →
When Fritz Scholder came to New Mexico in the 1960s, he sword he’d never paint the Indian. When he got there, and saw the condition of the state of Indian art, he changed his mind. A quarter Luiseño, he was invited to join the Rockefeller Southwest Indian Art Project, and would eventually join the faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Scholder’s work would cross all manner of boundaries.
The exhibit at NMAI that opens on Friday is nothing short incredible. The color palette alone should get you out there. Scholder’s palette ranges from day-glo pink to earthen brown and meets in the middle with some incredible combinations. “Red No. 5” pictured above is one of his later pieces, part of his second Indian phase. His works seek to show the reality of the Indian life in the US, from alcoholism to a distorted self-image, Scholder hasn’t found a taboo that he won’t delve into.