Smithsonian NY

Beez Neez
Skipper and First Mate Millard (Big Bear and Pepe)
Thu 7 Jul 2011 11:32
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Our first stop on our three day tour bus ticket was at the Smithsonian, a first for us to enter one of these historic institutions. A coffee before, a quick bit of airport security and free admission saw us in the stunning building.
The building is equally impressive seen from the side 


The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House (originally U.S. Custom House) was built 1902–1907 by the federal government to house the duty collection operations for the port of New York. It is located near the southern tip of Manhattan, next to Battery Park, at 1 Bowling Green. The building is now the home of the New York branch of the National Museum of the American Indian as well as the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. In 2012, it will also be home to the National Archives.



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Architecture: The building was designed by Minnesotan Cass Gilbert, who later designed the Woolworth Building, which is visible from the building's front steps. The selection of Gilbert to design the building was marked with controversy. Until 1893 federal office buildings were designed by government architects under the Office of the Supervising Architect of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In 1893 the Tarsney Act permitted the Supervising Architect to hire private architects following a competition. The Supervising Architect James Knox Taylor picked Gilbert who earlier had been his partner at the Gilbert & Taylor architect firm in St. Paul, Minnesota. The scandal never quite blew over and in 1913 the Act was repealed.  


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It was constructed between 1902 and 1907. It is a masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style, where public transactions were conducted under a noble Roman dome. It incorporates Beaux Arts and City Beautiful movement planning principles, combining architecture, engineering and fine arts. Lavish sculptures, paintings and decorations by well-known artists of the time, such as Daniel Chester French (the seated groups of the Four Continents on the front steps), Louis St. Gaudens and Albert Jaegers, embellish the facade, the two-story entry portico, the main hall parallel to the facade, the Rotunda and the Collector's Reception Room. Sculpture was so crucial to the scheme that the figure groups had independent contracts. Above the main cornice are standing sculptures representing the great seafaring nations, representing American seagoing commerce as the modern heir of the Phoenicians. In 1936, during the Great Depression, the Works Projects Administration commissioned murals for the main rotunda from Reginald Marsh.

The building sits on the site of Fort Amsterdam, the fortification constructed by the Dutch West India Company to defend their operations in the Hudson Valley. The fort became the nucleus of the New Amsterdam settlement, and in turn, of New York City.


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Historic Preservation: The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and for both exterior and public interior spaces. The Customs House was one of the earliest designations of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, so in 1987 the completion of its preservation, spurred by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who saved the building from demolition in 1979, attracted much public attention: exterior and ceremonial interior spaces were cleaned, restored, and conserved, while old office space was renovated for Federal courtrooms and ancillary offices, for rental offices and meeting rooms, and for a 350-seat auditorium with state-of-the-art projection facilities. Upgrades of fire-safety, security, telecommunications, heating, air conditioning and ventilating systems accompanied alterations.

The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.



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The Rotunda


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The ground floor was dedicated to the Native Indian doll



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For the children of the Great Plains, from Saskatchewan to Texas, playing with dolls made of wood, cloth or hide was an integral part of childhood, remembered with pleasure by old people reminiscing about the past. Agnes Yellow Plume, an Arapaho woman, remembered making “pieces” dolls as a child in the early 20th century. Each doll consisted of scraps of fabric with a little round head and rags hanging down like a shawl. Little Cheyenne girls carried their dolls everywhere in toy cradleboards and sang lullabies to their “babies.” Many Plains dolls, made by loving mothers and grandmothers, were carefully dressed in clothing decorated with beads or paint. Dressing and undressing the doll was apparently just as popular with these Native peoples as with little girls today. Pretty Shield (1856-1944), a Crow medicine woman remembered wearing her favourite doll out, dressing and undressing her.


In the southwestern U.S. a market for Native arts, including dolls, developed as early as the 1870’s, when railroads were built through Arizona and new Mexico. Each stop along the way became a place for travelers to alight and buy souvenirs from the Pueblo and others who sold their wares. By the 1930’s dolls such as the Navajo weaver seated at the loom, an iconic image of the southwest, were being sold in museum shops and by mail order to collectors who had never traveled to Indian Country. Two well-known doll-makers of the late 20th century were Kay Bennett (Navajo) and Helen Cordero (Cochiti Pueblo).

Kay referenced memories of her Navajo childhood to recreate figure of women and men meticulously dressed in traditional clothing, wearing minature silver and turquoise jewelry for which the silversmiths were so renowned. Helen is credited with inventing the Storyteller Doll, a seated figure surrounded by numerous small children. The first Storyteller was based on her grandfather, her work has inspired two generations of doll-makers and today there are more than a hundred artists creating this iconic figure.



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The Northwest Coast and California, from Yakutat Bay in Alaska to Baja California, and is home to a vast number of tribal groups and distinctive ecologies. The dolls from this area reflect a wide range of styles and materials. Many dolls were carved from wood, a product of the great forests which were a source of large totem poles and monumental interior house posts. Dolls were also made of basketry of grasses and bark from the cedar tree. Some dolls were dressed in traditional regalia such as blankets from bright red and blue woollen trade cloth, decorated with buttons and beadwork. These blankets are still made and worn today on ceremonial occasions. One well-known late 19th century doll artist, a Makah wood carver named Frank Allabush, made mother-and-child carvings, a number are in museum collections.


In southwest Alaska there were restrictions on playing with dolls. Doll play was reserved for the summertime only, outside the house, for if it continued after the first snow, harm would come to the village. A story of some girls who broke this rule is still fresh in the memory of the old people in the village of Chevak: “There was a village one time that......when they were playing with dolls in the wintertime, the season came about to be spring, and this certain village was still winter, and....birds... were walking on top of the snow, and they didn’t realise that the place around them was summertime, but the village inside was winter.”


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From Siberia to Greenland dolls were, and are, the favourite toys for children. Nowadays most dolls are store bought, but in the old days loving fathers carved them from walrus ivory, bone or driftwood. A little girl learned to sew by dressing her doll in fur, gut skin or trade cloth, a preparation for the time when she would have to dress her entire family. Each child had a collection of dolls, from only an inch or so tall up to a foot tall. In the 1890’s, when Edward W. Nelson was visiting the Bering Strait area for the Smithsonian Institution, he reported, “While making a visit to Sledge Island, two little girls in the house where we stopped amused us by standing their dolls in a semicircle on the floor, while they sat patiently behind, as though permitting their dolls to take a look at the strangers.” 

Like their counterparts in the north, the dolls of Latin America reflect great geographical and cultural diversity. Rocky deserts, tropical rain forests, high mountains and steppe-like plains set the stage for a variety of peoples, from hunter gatherers to residents of great cities. The dolls of each region reflect these cultural differences. The people of the tropical rain forest, for example wore very little in the way of clothing but painted their bodies with elaborate and beautiful designs. Their dolls were made of painted clay, made for their own children and to sell to tourists. Some dolls were made of beeswax or wood, perhaps the most exotic was the use of the Patagonian rhea, a giant walking bird related to the ostrich. For more than four hundred years, many regions have been occupied by the Spanish who have influenced Native lifestyles and dress. Some contemporary Native dolls are dressed in European-style clothing that was worn by the upper classes in the towns and cities of an earlier time.


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Throughout much of North America, there are several traditional means of carrying babies safely and happily while freeing their mothers hands for other work. Some are simple baskets with handles, other are seats into which the baby is strapped. In many areas mothers used a cradleboard – a flat, padded board to which the bundled up baby was securely tied. Toy baby carriers have the same design and construction as full-sized ones. Some are designed with a sun shade to protect the baby or dolls face. Many have a wooden hoop at the top, this is for protection if the cradleboard rolls over and for tying small objects for amusement. The doll carriers of some lucky little girls have the same elaborate beadwork, painted designs, silk and metal adornments as the full-sized ones.


The people of the Eastern Woodlands were the first to encounter Europeans, and they were quick to adopt new trade materials such as woolen cloth and glass beads. Their traditional lifestyle remained strong, however. The beaded designs on clothing replicated motifs that had been created with indigenous quillwork. The no-face corn husk dolls (story below) were dressed in trade cloth and recalled ancient stories told to generations of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) children. The Seminole dolls of Florida, made of palmetto fibre, are dressed in brightly coloured patchwork garments that were designed to protect the wearer from the abundance of mosquitos in the Everglades.



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Woodlands. Many dolls made in the 1930’s and 1940’s portray Native people wearing everyday clothing of the time, that reflected a rural and agricultural lifestyle. Two noted Cherokee artists, Richard and Berdina Crowe of Qualla, North Carolina, who made dolls for the Indian Arts and Craft Board (a New Deal program intended to give employment to Native people), created a number of Cherokee couples. Richard carved the figures and his wife dressed them in miniature clothing – accurate in every detail. Another doll-maker who focused on accurate detail was Gladys Tantaquidgeon, a Connecticut Mohegan elder and medicine woman who devoted her long life to the preservation of the Mohegan language and culture.


Plains. In recent years a number of contemporary artists have entered the field of dollmaking and have used their work to keep traditions alive. In some Plains families, including Holy Bears (Standing Rock Lakota Sioux) and the Growing Thunders (Assiniboine/Sioux), several generations of artists have produced award-winning work at Indian Market, the prestigious annual showcase for the best Native art, which is a major Santa Fe cultural event. These dolls show meticulous attention to detail, especially in the use of materials such as porcupine quills, which the artists gather, dye and embroider using techniques that have been practiced for generations. many of the artists make full-sized clothing and accessories, but doll-making adds the challenge of creating beautiful and accurate work in miniature form. My favourite.


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The no-face corn husk doll story. A long time ago, there lived a girl who was given the gift of beauty. People in her village would turn their head to see her when she walked by. Everyone would talk about how beautiful she was. The girl realised she was beautiful and spent all her time looking at herself in the pond (in those days there were no mirrors). When it came time to plant the Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash), she was nowhere to be found. When the garden needed weeding, she was nowhere to be found. When it came to prepare the animal hides for clothing and other useful things, she was nowhere to be found and when it came the time to grind the corn into meal, she was nowhere to be found.

When it was time to serve the meals, she was the first one to eat. When it was time to get new clothing, she got the best hides. When it was time to dance and sing at the ceremonies, she was the first in line to start. The people were unhappy with the way the young woman was behaving. They carried on so much that the Creator decided that something had to be done. The Creator came to the young woman one day and said, “I gave you the gift of beauty and you misused it. I will punish you.” The Creator reached out and took her face and hid it. That is why the cornhusk doll has no face, to remind us that no one is better than anyone else, and that we must always cooperate with one another.