Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Natives in Brooklyn Volume 57 Number 6, November/December 2004
by Timothy Cartin Gyves

[image] A startling wooden ladle from 19th-century British Columbia (Courtesy Brooklyn Museum of Art) [LARGER IMAGE]

Fans of indigenous art from North, South, and Central America may be surprised to learn that the Brooklyn Museum of Art houses one of the most extensive collections in the world. And with Living Legacies: The Arts of the Americas, the first phase of a permanent reinstallation of the collection (to be completed in 2006), it becomes available to the public. Located in the renovated Hall of the Americas, its three-story-tall walls painted bold purples and yellows, the exhibition showcases a rich array of objects from 900 B.C. to the present that range from the ceremonial to the everyday. Text panels in English and Spanish explore the themes common to native life across two continents and almost three millennia. Oriented to art and anthropology rather than archaeology, Living Legacies is nevertheless a thoughtful exploration of native life.

Drawn from the early twentieth-century expeditions of Stewart Culin, then the museum's ethnology curator, Living Legacies is divided into three sections. "Threads of Time: Woven Histories of the Andes" features textiles ranging from the pristine to the threadbare; "Enduring Heritage: Art of the Northwest Coast," presents, among other pieces, totem poles, hinged masks, and an oversize wooden ladle with a skull carved in it, largely from present-day British Columbia; and "Stories Revealed: Writing Without Words" has a host of examples of native pictorial storytelling from Alaska to Mexico created on hides, pottery, cloth, and paper.

While striking objects are found in all three--a hinged wooden whale mask nearly the size of its wearer, dramatic narratives of the hunt etched on walrus tusks--"Threads of Time," one of the most important collections of its kind outside of South America, will most appeal to the archaeologically minded. Textiles from the Paracas, Nazca, and Chimu cultures of the Peruvian coast are on display, including a tattered but intricate mantle from A.D. 200-600 known as the Paracas Textile ("Fabric of Time," March/April 2000) and a fragment of a 1,000-year-old Chimu loincloth featuring a pattern of canoeing men with the countenances of fierce elves.

Timothy Cartin Gyves is former museum conference coordinator for the American Federation of Arts.

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© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America