January 05, 2008

"Listening to Our Ancestors"

One of the lesser known but truly fabulous cultural institutions in New York City is the National Museum of the American Indian. Located at the Southern tip of Manhattan in the former U.S. Custom House, this is the New York branch of the Smithsonian Institution's 3 museums dedicated to our native heritage. On view through July 20, 2008, is a wonderful exhibition dedicated to the art of native life along the North West Coast of Canada and the United States.

"Listening to Our Ancestors" celebrates the artistic and cultural traditions of 11 Pacific coast nations. From Alaska through British Columbia to Washington State, the history of this region and the tribal relationships to nature and to fellow man is explained in a sensitive and beautiful collaboration between old and new, native and Anglo. Using examples from the Smithsonian's outstanding collection of North West Coast artifacts, the curators, working with the leaders of each Native nation, have successfully given an overview of the region's history, modern life and special ceremonies while giving each nation a unique identity within the whole.

The sculptural beauty of a Tlingit wooden brown bear bowl, the magnificence of a Gitxsan shaman's bear hide robe and crown of grizzly bear claws, the craftsmanship of a Heiltsuk button blanket and the magic of a Kwakwaka'wakw Transformation mask, are all presented to the visitor in an informative and fascinating installation. One leaves the exhibition with a new appreciation for the culture, both past and present, developed and preserved by these people of the North.

The Museum of the American Indian is open everyday and admission is free.

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