Earlier this week I stopped by the National Museum of the American Indian to see the wonderful new exhibit, “Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family.” I’m so glad I did.
The Yazzie’s hail from Gallup, New Mexico, with brothers Lee and Raymond and their sister Mary Marie being the most celebrated of this incredibly talented family of jewelers. Working mainly with stones native to the Southwest United States, they fashion rings, necklaces, belt buckles, earrings and other adornments primarily from turquoise, coral and silver, but also jade, lapis lazuli and occasionally, gold. About 300 pieces of their finely handcrafted jewelry are displayed. In addition to showcasing the exquisite workmanship of this family, the exhibit also places their work within a larger commercial, geographic and cultural context, intermixing pieces from the Museum’s collection with the Yazzie’s jewelry.
Providing some more context is an informational display about the different types of turquoise found in the Southwest, as well as short videos that provide additional background on the exhibit, and feature the artists speaking about how their Navajo culture and the Southwestern landscape have influenced their approach to their craft.
The exhibit continues through January10th, but I’d urge you to see it now, as I’m sure you’ll want to go back.
The Museum, located in the former Customs House at Bowling Green, has much to offer. You can find wonderful examples of masks, ceramics, woven baskets, and textiles created by Native peoples from Canada, the US, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean The main exhibition, “Infinity of Nations” is organized geographically, combining pre-historic, historic and modern examples of clothing, household and ceremonial objects, many of which have delicate, intricate, beadwork.
The Museum grew out of the collection of George Gustav Heye, a New Yorker who collected individual items, archeological collections, and photographs of Native peoples in North and South America. Heye opened the first iteration of the Museum in 1922 at 155th Street and Broadway; in 1989 it was transferred to the Smithsonian. The current Museum has collections not only at the Customs House but also in Washington, DC. You can read more on the Museum’s website
In addition to its more anthropological holdings, the Museum also displays the work of contemporary Native American artists.
You can find lots of activities for families throughout the year at the Museum.
Be sure to stop by the gift shop, especially if you’re looking for books on American Indian history and culture.
Not only is this a wonderful cultural institution, it’s also FREE!