Hipchickindc Visits The National Museum of the American Indian

National Museum of the American Indian, originally uploaded by Phijomo.

Since its debut in 2004, I have been a fan of the building that houses the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Although I had been inside, lured by friends who insisted that the NMAI cafeteria is absolutely the best place to eat on the Mall (it is), I had not yet explored the museum itself. An opportunity presented, therefore, when my daughter’s teacher was looking for chaperones for a class field trip. Subsequently, my first official visit to the NMAI involved a cramped ride in a yellow school bus and the company of 25 enthusiastic fifth graders.

As dramatic as the exterior of the building is, the interior is similarly fantastic, with entry into a vast open atrium. The open design embraces the possibility for experiential learning through performance and event space. Native American themes permeate the architecture and interior, not in an overt sense, but in references to natural materials and color palette, organic forms, the use of circular spaces, and significant ties to directional points.

We enjoyed a film presented in the round, with projection on small screens at the center and on the ceiling. The rich images were of daily life in various Native cultures, all emphasizing connection to the natural environment and sense of community.

Displays span the geographic and climatic conditions of the wide range of cultures that exist among Native American people. An effort to honor the history of each of the entities is balanced by a permanent exhibit that focuses on contemporary Native life. The multi-media exhibits include artifacts, photographs, models, music, and video presentations.

My favorite part of the interior of the museum was the collections exhibit that features handmade tools, pottery, dolls and icons, beadwork, arrowheads, and a history of the use of gold. The exterior of the museum and the related landscaping is worth spending some time appreciating, as well. In my notes, I wrote down a quote by Laura Lee George, a Hupa Indian:

In their prayers, people ask for the trees to have plenty of acorns. We also pray for a lot of fish and deer, for the world to be balanced, for babies to grow older in a good way, and for the people to walk in a balanced way on this earth.


10 Comment

  • The cafeteria is the best dinning experience on the mall.

  • The cafeteria is awesome and the exhibits cool, but the building itself, although architecturally interesting, looks like a hideous disney inspired abstract moccasin. Too bad it is on the Mall.

  • i keep trying to like this museum. but after repeated trips i’ve decided that apart from the film presentation i really don’t enjoy it. i hate having to take the elevator all the way up to the top floors to see the exhibits. and i find the exhibits themselves kind of exhausting. the cafeteria, from what i remember, is expensive…we walk 3 blocks south to go to potbelly’s.

  • Vonstallin

    This is the only Museum of Smithsonians that I have not gone to.
    I intern from 86 to 91 and work permanently from 1991 to 2004 and never made the trip to see it.

    Its on my todo list, especialy since I’m working only a few blocks from it now.

  • In the fourth paragraph, you refer to Native Americans as “Naïve American people” — an unfortunate typo that is also quite hilarious.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    Ha! Oops, sorry about that.

  • Oops. fixed. Thanks, PoP.

    I’ve always enjoyed the architecture of the museum. I particularly like the materials and colors, and the importance of the landscaped space.

    I’m ambivalent about the display space. The whole multi-media approach is a bit overwhelming. I’m also one of those people that hate too much information in museums (i.e. you will NEVER find me walking around with one of those recorded tours). I’d like to go back at some point without the 25 fifth graders and spend some time drawing the small clay icon figures.

  • how come the bldg. isn’t in the shape of a giant teepee?

  • Oh dear. I really hope they fixed that.

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