An exhibition of more than 400 objects from 11 Native communities from the North Pacific Coast †including ceremonial masks, carvings, clothing, baskets and tools †will open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York, the George Gustav Heye Center, September 12. “Listening to Our Ancestors: The Art of Native Life Along the North Pacific Coast” comprises almost entirely works from the museum’s extensive collection. The exhibition runs through August 3, 2008.
Located along the Western Coast of North America from Washington State through Southeast Alaska, the communities of the North Pacific Coast speak different languages and participate in distinct cultural traditions. This diversity is reflected in the organization of the exhibition †with separate sections assembled by curators from the Coast Salish, Makah, Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka’wakw, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Tsimshian, Gitxsan, Nisga’a, Haida and Tlingit communities.
“Listening to Our Ancestors” contains 50 masks, including a number of transformation masks; elaborate works that allow the dancer to reveal a secondary identity through moving panels and mechanics. A Heiltsuk clam mask, circa 1900, can be opened to reveal a human face, while the fanlike armatures of an intricate Kwakwaka’wakw sun transformation mask, circa 1870‱910, extends to reveal rays of sunshine.
Other notable objects are a 13½-foot model canoe with figures by Young Doctor (1850‱933), an Eighteenth Century Nuu-chah-nulth whaler’s hat and an extremely unusual Tlingit robe made out of a Chilkat blanket, circa 1875.
Detailing the lives of these communities, the exhibition also will feature large presentations of objects that describe potlatch ceremonies, or traditional gift-giving feasts and the importance of natural resources.
The Heye Center will present a coordinating schedule of public programs to complement the exhibition.
An illustrated catalog, featuring narratives from several of the community curators and an introduction by Chief Robert Joseph (Kwakwaka’wakw), was published by the National Museum of the American Indian in association with National Geographic . The 192-page volume retails for $25 at the museum stores.
The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center is at One Bowling Green, across from Battery Park. For information, www.AmericanIndian.si.edu or 212-514-3700.