N.Y. exhibit gives taste of Indian life

December 27, 1992|By Tom Poster | Tom Poster,Contributing Writer

NEW YORK -- The most important symbol to the American Indian is a circle.

It has no beginning and never ends. It just goes round and round.

It reminds Indians of their families: They have always been, have suffered much, and will always survive.

This information strikes visitors soon after entering the new Smithsonian Institution's Indian exhibit, which has moved into the old Custom House at Bowling Green at the foot of Broadway.

The Custom House is the future home of the Museum of the American Indian. It was in this vicinity that Manhattan was originally sold to settlers by Indians for the equivalent of about $24.

The exhibit, which is free and open until Jan. 26 (from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily), offers a peek into what will come in 1994 when construction is completed for the move downtown by the museum, which is currently at Broadway and 155th Street.

The exhibit, a taste of Indian life called "Pathways of Tradition: Indian Insights Into Indian Worlds," is a collection of some 100 objects representing a cross section of Indian cultures and creativity. It has been drawing crowds to the block-long beaux-arts-style building, which also houses the U.S. Bankruptcy Court on its upper floors.

The entrance to the exhibit is striking. , and a video screen shows non-stop programs on Indian culture and life.

Inside are Indian blankets, clothing, headdresses and art. But some Indians do not think the average New Yorker will truly understand or appreciate their heritage. The curator, Rick Hill of the Tuscarora tribe, says the artifacts are carefully designed as a "personal journey that you go through."

"When the visitor begins his journey in 'Pathways,' we want him or her to know that we are still here. This way, the collections of the museum are not viewed as treasures of the past, but as voices of the past that keep inspiring us to talk to the future.

"This exhibit has been organized as a dialogue between the Indians and the visitors, so you have many points of view, many perspectives, many insights from Indians as to what these objects mean."

A gift shop carries books on Indian history, stories of Sitting Bull, Geronimo and Chief Crazy Horse, and the impact on the natives in 1492, when Columbus landed in what is now the Bahamas.

On weekends during the exhibit, dance programs are held as well, scheduled at 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. They will include the "Crown Dance," performed in honor of a young Apache woman coming of age, and the "Grass Dance," by Plains Indians, to invoke warrior heroism.

The Museum of the American Indian is a collection assembled over 54 years, beginning in 1903, by New York banker George Gustav Heye.

In 1989, President Bush signed legislation that made the museum part of the Smithsonian Institution and established a national museum, to be erected in Washington, and the George Gustav Heye Center of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, to be located in the Custom House.

# New York Daily News

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