Across the United States, there are a number of museums and exhibits that focus on Native American cultures. Some focus on history, some focus on archaeology, and some focus on art. These seven great museums all seek innovative ways to creatively express Native American narratives through their collections. All of these museums both inform and express beauty.
Covering about 12,000 years of Native American history, the National Museum of the American Indian in New York archives approximately 1,200 different Native American cultures primarily from the United States, but it also contains items from Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The museum contains not only historical artwork but it also holds modern and contemporary art. Current exhibitions include Meryl McMater: Second Self (a photographed portrait series), Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed (an exhibition of Central American ceramics), and Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family (an exhibition of jewelry that explores art’s meaning in culture).
Looking at Native Americans from North, Central, and South Americas, the American Museum of Natural History brilliantly displays the great cultural breadth of Native American culture. Five exhibitions focus on American Indians. Notably, the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians, which opened in 1900, is the oldest exhibit of the museum. It contains items from a number of tribes, including the Haida and Tlingit, and it holds ‘The Great Canoe,’ which is an enormous entity that spans the exhibit’s entrance.
Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Santa Fe | Courtesy of Carnegie Museum Of Natural History
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture
The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture tells the stories of Native Americans in the Southwest from prehistory to the modern day. One exhibit, Here, Now, and Always, uses a combination of oral tradition and artifacts to explain the Southwest’s peoples. Narrations from elders, scholars, and others accompany items on display. One current exhibit, Courage and Compassion: Native Women Sculpting Women displays sculptures by Native American women in the 20th and 21st centuries using traditional techniques. This shows one way that tradition has continued in the Southwest.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh | Courtesy of the Heard Museum
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Native Americans’ relationship to the natural world is the primary focus of the Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. To span across the US, Alcoa includes items from the Tlingit, Hopi, Lakota, and Iroquois. The exhibit primarily focuses on contemporary lives of Native Americans, mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries. One important item the museum features is a headdress that was likely Sitting Bull’s.
The Heard Museum has over 40,000 pieces, which focus on the Southwest and contemporary art from North America. The museum’s stable exhibit, HOME: Native People in the Southwest combines objects and narratives to create a rich story, and it contains a number of cultural items, including jewelry and Hopi katsina dolls. One current exhibit, Loloma: Expressions in Metal, Ink and Clay, depicts the artistic prowess of one Hopi man, Charles Loloma. Featuring jewelry and pottery, Loloma’s art shows the impressive designs of the Hopi.
Situated in a traditional Iroquois Longhouse with an open staircase that recalls an Iroquois story of creation, the Iroquois Indian Museum immerses the visitor in Iroquois culture from his initial arrival. The museum contains archaeological materials, historical items, and a large section on contemporary Iroquois art. One current exhibit, Buckskin to Bikinis, shows the evolution of fashion and art. It explores the effects of conquest on fashion, but also features elements that have been reclaimed by Native Americans, like fringe and feathers.
The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts features contemporary art, and it is a goal of the MoCNA to establish a cross-cultural dialogue. It contains textiles, paintings, drawings, and pottery, among many other mediums. One current exhibit, War Department, depicts how Native Americans have dealt with war and violence. This exhibit contains items that do not deal with war directly but shows how war affects daily life. Another exhibit, An Evening Redness in the West, contains items that depict the apocalypse and reimagines what will happen afterward.