This Thanksgiving, how about we Americans show gratitude for the Native Americans who originally presided over our country. November is National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, so this may be the time to make a pilgrimage to art museums showcasing Indian work.
John Grimes, former director of the Institute of American Indian Arts, one of the finest institutions in the US, sought to infuse the art world with a new vocabulary “based on global experience rather than Western ideals and history.”
The Smithsonian opened a new building on the Mall in Washington in 2004 to house the National Museum of the American Indian. In its first year in that location, the museum, which has branches in Manhattan and Maryland, was visited by more than three million people. Its collection of 800,000 artworks and artifacts from the Americas is an astonishing presentation of Native cultures.
As W. Richard West Jr., director of the museum and a man of Cheyenne and Arapaho lineage, said, “We are an institution of living cultures, not a museum of dying cultures.”
Here are his choices for the five museums with the best Native collections in the U.S.
The Heard Museum
This center for contemporary Native American fine art boasts more than 35,000 pieces. Exhibits at the Heard have included the Celebration of Basket Weaving and Native Food Festivals, where top chefs demonstrate contemporary and traditional recipes. The online museum store offers Indian rugs, art, pottery, etc.
National Museum of the American Indian
The museum’s vast collection includes materials of cultural, historical, aesthetic and spiritual significance. Objects at the National Museum include Navajo weavings, feather bonnets from the North American Plains and Southwest pottery. Outposts are in New York and Maryland.
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art
Open since 1989, the Eiteljorg Museum strives to present a realistic view of the West and Native cultures. With 5,000 pieces heavily focused on fine art, a large number of Native communities are represented. The online store offers jewelry, clothing, books of cowboy poetry, and folk art.
Big Cypress Reservation, Clewiston, Florida
Run by the Seminole Tribe, the museum is dedicated to their history and fight to remain in Florida. Other attractions are offered, like a swamp buggy eco tour, and rustic overnight accommodations are available.
Institute of American Indian Arts
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The only art college in the U.S. specifically for Native Americans that also houses a museum. The institute of American Indian Arts is a powerhouse in this world of Native American art. Its online museum store offers fine art, jewelry, pottery, and some less expensive gifts like a sun catcher and playing cards.