Friday, September 5, 2014

A Capital field trip - the National Museum of the Native American

Hello all - Happy September. As one who used to head back to the classroom at this time of year, I feel renewed appreciation that I am now heading back to my studio after Beadfest. 

Although a field trip is always welcome! Lesley Watt was here for a bit before heading home and I took the opportunity to show her a few select sites in DC. Its hard to narrow the choices down to one day - and it was a sweltering, insanely hot day at that. We opted for a bus tour to see the monuments and a museum. Fellow AJE member Melissa Meman met us in town... 

Knowing I had a post coming up I was on alert for inspiration. Well, that was foolish. It was everywhere, at every corner, textures, colors, forms... and to be touring with 2 fellow artists? So awesome. I wanted to share the highlights and some of the inspiration with you... 

We started at the Castle, the original Smithsonian building. ( Can I just say it was nice to be "home" - having lived just outside DC for 10+ years?!)

The Smithsonian "Castle", mosaic floor design, intense floral displays. 

The National Museum of the American Indian silhouetted by blue sky, petroglyph designs in the glass entry doors.  These designs alone sparked ideas popping into my head - clay, polymer... carving stamps. 

Feathered faces: 1 Raven carving. Totem pole. 2.Niska eagle headdress, carved wood/shell c. 1880  3. Tlingit octopus/owl mask. cedar 4. Ceramic owl vessel, Central Caribbean/Costa Rica c. 500-800 AD. 

Animal totems: 1.Inupiaq walrus carving  2.Hopi coiled ceramic chicken vessel 3.Inupiaq carved ivory school of fish
 4. Inupiaq Eskimo carved cedar seal.

There are so many distinct styles represented in the museum, and its thrilling to see iconic images/creatures/motifs represented across cultures. It speaks loudly to human nature, archetypes, and what resonates within shared or related cultures. 

Maidu Creation story. Painting by H. Fonesca. 2000. Acrylic on canvas. Its a pleasure to see old and new in the NMAI. This was a contemporary painting - very evocative. It struck a accord with all three of us. I enjoy the museum's presentation of AI culture in its history and evolving in its present. 
Beaded cradle board, detail, and sample glass bead card, c. 1850's. While AI arts are renown for their beadwork, it is interesting to place it in history... that seed beads were a trade item introduced by settlers, colonists and the like. ..

1. Sample bead card 2. Tlingit dance collar. c. 1900  3. Lakota doctor's bag. c. 1890

"Kiowa aw-day" by Terri Greeves. 2004. From the wall text: " Traditionally, Aw-day ( favorite Children) lead the Kiowa Black leggings Warrior society into the dance arena...These sneakers...honor the Aw-day children. Greeve's son... depicted in yellow buckskin on the left shoe... The moccasin leggings in the large photograph might have been made for an Aw-day child." 

1. Kahnawake Mohawk beaded wall hanging depicting Kateri Tekakwitha. c. 1965 2. Beading kit c. 1960 3. Sample Czech glass bead card. 
Black on black Pueblo pottery has long been an interest of mine. The techniques were rediscovered from pottery shards by Maria Martinez and her husband. The style re-emerged in the area and flourished; artists using traditional and modern motifs. 1. Carved and burnished plate, butterfly design. Rose Gonzales. San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1979  2. Burnished and painted plate, feather design. Maria Martinez. San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1965. 

The feather motif was especially symbolic to us as we had just completed the CoM with Rebekah;s leather feather the day prior! 

Wonderful polychrome pottery from Central America. The website for this special exhibit has wonderful resources.
1. Greater Cochle plate, human crocodile design. c. 850-950 AD 2. polychrome plate, bird design. 3. Greater Cochle plate with crocodile design. AD 850-950. 

Honestly - my head is still spinning a bit looking back over these images. The NMAI is an amazing museum, and one I recommend to anyone in the area.  We were filling up with ideas for designs, materials, forms... content, motifs... you name it. I predict there will be more posts in the near future that started with a spark from this day's trip.

Until then - their website!  wow. I was searching info to tag my images, and I got lost in a sea of pottery, ivory carvings, silver and turquoise. I want  a day just to surf their online site!

Thanks for stopping in... 


  1. Thank you for this great day out Jenny...NMAI was as you say hugely inspiring with so much to see and such depth and breadth to the exhibits...not to mention that it was a cool oasis on a day when I felt I would melt into a puddle!

  2. Looks like you ladies had a fun and inspiring day! Thanks for sharing some of the art and history with us.

  3. I have long been inspired by, and made a study of, the amazing work of the native cultures of our continent. The wealth of art and meaning is vast. When I lived in the Washington DC area many years ago, the NMAI did not yet exist. I am now very excited about returning to see it. I must plan a visit soon, sketch book in tow!

  4. Thanks for this post! My greatest joy as a girl growing up in DC was summer days when Mom would pin two car tokens to my blouse collar and give me a sack lunch. I'd spend the whole day at one of the museums. My love of learning started at the Smithsonian. I ended up with three degrees!

  5. Such a great post! You did such a great job with keeping up with your photos and attributions! I had such a great time with you two, and thanks to Lesley for choosing this museum. Not sure I would have, and I would have missed out on a lot of inspiration!


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