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Fishing Canoe

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
From card: "Originally had paddles with it. Refer: Collins' MS. p. 1359. U.S.N.M. Bull. 127, p. 285."

This canoe appears to be the same canoe shown in National Anthropological Archives photo NAA INV 05264600, DOE Oceania: West Polynesia: Samoa: NM 151640 05264600, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. This photo has the caption: "Non-Native Man in Outrigger Canoe (Bought by Lt T. Dix Bolles) and Holding Paddle on Lawn", and appears to have been taken on the Mall near the Smithsonian Arts and Industries building. This canoe also appears to the same canoe photographed at the same spot and the same time? as the one shown in a National Anthropological Archives photo: NAA INV 04924400, DOE Oceania: Amer Polynesia: Hawaii: School Children 04924400, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. This canoe is definitely of Samoan manufacture, per Dr. Adrienne Kaeppler, though the NAA photo identifies it (apparently erroneously) as having belonged to Princess Ka'iulani of Hawaii.

An intramural transfer of specimens document filed in accession file 36053 dated February 18, 1965 lists this boat as part of a group of boats transferred from the Division of Transportation to the Division of Ethnology, Department of Anthropology. It is identified on the form as a Samoan fishing canoe.

Canoe is described in U.S. National Museum Bulletin # 127, p. 285: Samoan fishing canoe. A type of canoe used by the natives at Tutuila, Samoa, for bonita [sic, should be bonito] fishing. It is an open, sharp-ended, outrigged dugout [sic] canoe, with round bottom, one end [the stern] rising in a long easy curve from the bottom, the other sharp and hollowed at the extremity [the bow], so that it projects forward at top and lower corner; small balance log attached to two outriggers; no sail; two paddles. Dimensions of canoe. - Length, 23 feet 7 inches; width, 19 inches; depth, 16 inches; outriggers, outboard, 3 feet 8 inches; balance log, 13 feet 10 inches long, 4 inches diameter; paddles, 4 feet 4 inches long, 9 inches extreme width of blades. Collected by T. D. Bolles."

Red paint on exterior. Canoe hull is not a dugout but rather constructed by the sewn-plank technique. This would be a 2 or 3 person canoe per Regina Meredith of American Samoa, siapo (tapa) maker, artist, and teacher.

Jigsaw Puzzles

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Game encourages children to piece together postal history by putting puzzle photographs together.

Helen Keller (with Polly Thompson)

National Portrait Gallery
Born Tuscumbia, Alabama

Helen Keller became blind and deaf when she was nineteen months old, but with the help of her teacher Anne Sullivan, she learned to communicate via tactile sign language. Keller went on to graduate cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1904 and write The Story of My Life (1903), an acclaimed autobiography that has been translated into dozens of languages. She remains an admired symbol of the human spirit’s power to overcome adversity. In 1924, Keller became the official spokesperson for the newly formed American Foundation for the Blind and, thanks to her successful lobbying, gained inclusion of a clause in the Social Security Act of 1935 that made the blind eligible for grant assistance. Sculptor Jo Davidson created bust portraits while closely observing his subjects and their movements. These studies of Keller capture both the artist’s process and the elegance of Keller as she converses with her companion Polly Thompson (1885–1960).

Nacida en Tuscumbia, Alabama

Helen Keller quedó ciega y sorda a los 19 meses de nacida, pero con ayuda de la maestra Anne Sullivan aprendió a comunicarse mediante un lenguaje táctil de señas. En 1903 escribió La historia de mi vida, una celebrada autobiografía que se ha traducido a docenas de idiomas, y en 1904 se graduó cum laude de Radcliffe College. Keller continúa siendo un símbolo admirado del poder del espíritu humano para superar la adversidad. En 1924, Keller se convirtió en portavoz oficial de la recién creada Fundación Americana para Ciegos y gracias a su activismo se logró incluir en la Ley de Seguridad Social de 1935 una cláusula que daba a las personas ciegas el derecho de recibir ayuda económica. Para hacer sus retratos, el escultor Jo Davidson observaba con atención a sus modelos y el modo en que se movían. Estos estudios de Keller revelan dicho método, captando la elegancia de la retratada mientras conversa con su acompañante Polly Thompson (1885–1960).

Layers: Project Zero Visible Thinking Routine

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
A "Visible Thinking" routine for structuring analysis of creative works from Project Zero. This routine provides learners with a structure for looking analytically at creative works through a variety of different frameworks. Frameworks include: narrative, aesthetic, mechanical, dynamic, and connections.


 routine for structuring
 analysis of
 creative works

Each Layer Consists of 4 Possible Elements to Seek Out and Identify in the Work

NARRATIVE The story, the back or pre story, the other or hidden story, the message

AESTHETIC The appeal (what pulls you in?), the reward or take away, the skill/mastery of the artist on display, the new/different/unusual

MECHANICAL Technique, Form/structure, Methods, Symbolism

DYNAMIC Surprise, Tension, Emotion and Movement

CONNECTIONS To other works (in and out of the medium/genre), to history, to oneself, to the artist's other works or personal life.

Purpose: What kind of thinking does this routine encourage?

The routine provides learners with a structure for looking analytically at creative works through a variety of different frameworks.

Application: When and Where can it be used?

There are many layers through which one can approach or look at any creative work (literature, dance, painting, etc.). Some layers may be more appropriate than others given the work being examined. Part of analysis involves selecting appropriate frames or layers to use in one's analysis. Selecting interesting and unexpected layers can help one understand the work better. Sometimes this means rejecting the obvious layer and starting with one of the other layers.

Launch: What are some tips for starting and using this routine?

After looking closely at a creative work to fully notice what is there, students select a "layer" from the list to use in their analysis. This analysis can be done individually, with a partner, or whole group. Initially you may want to introduce one layer at a time with the whole class so that students have some collective experience using the layers. Initially the analysis should be done verbally so that students hear and can build on other's ideas and contributions. Other possible ways of using the layers are:

1) To identify prominent and hidden qualities: In this work, what layer immediately speaks to you? What makes you say that? Which layers seem more distant? What makes you say that?

2) To compare and contrast: Use the layers to contrast 2 works to see how they relate to one another. Looking at 2 works, where do you see connections as well as differences in terms of the layers?

3) As a sieve: Pick one element from each of the layers through which to explore the work.

4) As a source of questions: Use the layers and their elements to identify questions you want to ask an expert about the work of art.

Selections from the Field Journal of William Duncan Strong (Honduras, 1933)

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Discusses the experience of international travel, and the study of human civilizations. Includes images of journal pages, detailed descriptions, and suggested further reading.

Pen Friend Across the Nation: An Intergenerational Letter-Writing Project

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Letter-writing curriculum for students and senior citizens encourages one-to-one relations and communication. Includes suggestions for set-up, discussions, and activities.

Caesar [sound recording] : readings in Latin and English / by Professor Moses Hadas

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
Cover by Designers Collaborative, with woodcut by Borys Patchowsky.

Notes by Moses Hadas in booklet (4 p.), and teacher's guide by Stanley Solomon (2 p.) inserted in original container.

Read by Moses Hadas.

Related materials may be found in the Moses and Frances Asch Collection, also held by this repository. Related materials may include correspondence between the studio, producers, and/or performers; original cover art designs; original production materials; business records; and audiotapes from studio production.

Ocean Planet: Interdisciplinary Marine Science Activities

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Students dip into the subjects of ocean geography, ocean creatures, and our uses and misuses of this largely unexplored world. Includes a section on the ocean in language and literature.

Mathematical Explorations of the People's Design Award

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson plan in which students conduct surveys about nominees for the annual People's Design Award. They mathematically determine the winner of their own contest and present results using a pictorial representation.

John Wesley Powell Library of Anthropology

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Homepage for the John Wesley Powell Library of Anthropology, one of 20 branches in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' system. Supports the research, publication, exhibitions, and public programming of the Department.

The Voices of Voting: How Do We Judge Design? (9-12)

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
This lesson examines the parameters of the voting process in the annual People's Design Award. Students use a discerning eye to compare and critique artworks.

The Way of Water in the World

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson plan looking at global issues of water shortage and contamination. Students conduct Internet research and work in small groups to find solutions to these problems.

African-American Girls Are More Likely To Be Suspended Or Expelled

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1951, Barbara Rose Johns, age 16, led her all-black high school in a protest against unequal conditions in segregated schools. With counsel from the NAACP, she and her allies later joined the landmark case Brown v Board of Education. But decades after the Civil Rights Movement, the fight started in the 1950s is not done. African American girls are faring worse than other girls on almost every measure of academic achievement, according to a new report.

African American girls are more likely than other groups of girls to be suspended, expelled or held back a year, write the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Their report argues that racial and gender discrimination and stereotypes—as well as the unequal distribution of resources, teachers and activities—are to blame.

During the 2011 to 2012 school year, 12 percent of African American female students, pre-K through 12th grade, were suspended. That rate is six times higher than that for white girls. It’s also higher than for any other group of girls and higher than for white, Asian and Latino boys. (20 percent of African American boys are suspended, according to the original report.)

One of the report’s lead authors, Janel George, education and policy counsel at LDF, talked to NPR about how high suspension rates and other discipline disparities can affect education:

What we have is lost instruction time, lost classroom time, disengagement from the school environment, feelings of alienation, and a lot of times we see increased referrals to the juvenile justice system for often minor offenses.

One story we recount in our report is a quote from a young lady who says, "They have different rules for us, whereas other students can commit the same infractions, we will be disciplined harsher."

The result, the report suggests, is a lifetime of struggle for equal treatment and opportunities. In 2010, one-third of African American girls did not graduate from high school on time. In 2013, more than 40 percent of African American women over the age of 25 were living in poverty.

The report praises initiatives for African American boys but asks for more support, investment and attention to be given to African American girls. 

African Voices

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Website exploring the diversity and global influence of African culture. Includes interactive historical timeline from pre-history to the present, an exploration of overarching themes, highlighted African art, interviews with modern Africans, a bibliography, and interactive maps.

Patent Model for Cylindrical Slide Rule Invented by George Fuller

National Museum of American History
This is the U.S. patent model for a cylindrical slide rule invented by George Fuller (1829–1907), a British civil engineer and professor of engineering at Queen's College, Belfast. Fuller received patents in Great Britain (no. 1044) in 1878 and in the United States in 1879. W. F. Stanley of London manufactured the rule from 1879 until 1975, and it was marketed in the United States by Keuffel & Esser, Dietzgen, and other dealers. The model has a wooden handle and shaft, with a wooden cylinder that slides up and down the shaft. A paper covered with scales fits around the cylinder. The lower edge of the cylinder has a scale of equal parts. The remainder bears a spiral scale divided logarithmically. A rectangular clear plastic pointer has broken from its attachment on the handle and is tucked into a red ribbon tied around the cylinder. A paper patent tag is marked: No. 291.246; 1879 (/) G. Fuller. (/) Calculators. (/) Patented Sept 2. (/) 1879. A printed description from the patent application of April 16, 1878, is glued to the back of the tag. The tag is attached to the handle with a red ribbon. L. Leland Locke, a New York mathematics teacher and historian of mathematics, collected this patent model and intended it for the Museums of the Peaceful Arts in New York City. When that institution encountered financial difficulties in 1940, Locke gave a collection of objects, including this model, to the Smithsonian Institution. For production models of this instrument, see 313751, 316575, and 1998.0046.01. References: George Fuller, "Improvement in Calculators" (U.S. Patent 219,246 issued September 2, 1879); The Report of the President of Queen's College, Belfast, for the Year Ending October, 1876 (Dublin, 1877), 9, 29–30, 107–110; James J. Fenton, "Fuller's Calculating Slide-Rule," Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 22 (1886): 57–61; Dieter von Jezierski, Slide Rules: A Journey Through Three Centuries, trans. Rodger Shepherd (Mendham, N.J.: Astragal Press, 2000), 42–43.

Smithsonian in Your Classroom: Minerals, Crystals, and Gems: Stepping-Stones to Inquiry

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson plans introduce students to mineral science and the scientific process of observation, hypothesis, and conclusion.

Paper Airplanes Flew Decades Before Real Ones Did

Smithsonian Magazine

Page 16 of Every Little Boy’s Book details the folding of a piece of paper such that "when thrown from the hand, rarely hits the object aimed at, as it generally makes a graceful curve in passing through the air." To modern eyes, the instructions, description and illustration are exactly those of a paper airplane. But Phil Edwards for points out that these instructions were printed in 1864, 39 years before the Wright Brothers first flew their airplane

Humans dreamed of flight long before they put humans in the air. Back in the early 1500s, Leonardo da Vinci had designed a man-powered flying machine. Mathematician Archytas of Tarentum reportedly created a mechanical wooden dove that flew for 200 meters in 250 B.C.E. So paper airplanes flying from the hands of children during the Civil War Era aren’t that surprising — although the book calls them 'paper darts,' not airplanes.  But despite the name, the design is very familiar and so was the play, apparently. Edwards writes:

People even used paper darts the same way kids use paper airplanes today: to be annoying. An 1881 description of the New York Stock Exchange noted an unusual punishment: "to throw a paper dart or ball at a member during the session of the Board is to incur a fine of ten dollars." Naturally, people threw paper darts at teachers, too: an 1889 story recalls the many times "a paper dart has glided noiselessly down the room, amidst the suppressed applause and smothered hilarity of the students."

When the term "paper aeroplane" first appeared in the 1890s, the toys it referred to looked more like birds than the aircraft that eventually lifted off the ground. They even included ways to flap the wings. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s, when airplanes finally looked like the paper toys of the last century did "plane" fully replace "dart" in the toy’s name.

The lag of that change indicates just how fixated people were to the idea that flying machines would imitate birds. Then again,  humans have experimented with a lot of very odd-looking aircraft. Of course, now engineers and designers have truly dialed in the performance of real airplanes as well as the paper variety.

Introducing the Junior Folklorist Challenge

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
A brush painter demonstrates his work for children at an exposition in Taierzhuang, China.
A brush painter demonstrates his work for children at an exposition in Taierzhuang, China.
Photo by Jim Deutsch

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an ethnobotanist. I wanted to go to the Amazon, talk to people about plants, and have adventures! That passion came from one event: a plant hike at an environmental festival, where a guide took us along the nearby river and pointed out plants—not just their names, but their cultural histories. How did people use them? What stories were told about them? What traditions surrounded them? I was hooked.

The students participating in the 2014 Junior Folklorist Challenge—created by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and ePals, an educational media company—have the opportunity to find that same sort of “hook.” The challenge is to find tradition bearers in their local communities willing to share their knowledge, skills, and passions. Along the way, students will practice professional skills though the “Folklorist Process,” as described by Smithsonian staff working with ePals curriculum developers.

Using this Folklorist Process, challenge participants will research cultural traditions in their community, document a particular tradition through well-developed interviews and audiovisual media, interpret their documentation to tell the story of that tradition, and present their findings through a short slideshow, video, or podcast posted on the ePals challenge website.

Folklorist and curator Jim Deutsch enjoys a martial arts performance along with schoolchildren at a Buddhist temple in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province.
Folklorist and curator Jim Deutsch enjoys a martial arts performance along with schoolchildren at a Buddhist temple in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province.
Photo by Sojin Kim

The Center and ePals are providing students with several tools to help them through this process, including “The Junior Folklorist Fieldwork Notebook” and a guide for best practices in interviewing. Smithsonian folklorist Betty Belanus offers advice on field work on the site, and Jim Deutsch, folklorist and co-curator of the China: Tradition and the Art of Living program at the 2014 Folklife Festival, is featured in a video blog defining folklore and encouraging students to participate. Students in China are urged to participate as a component of the Festival’s China program. The website also includes a discussion forum where students can ask Smithsonian staff questions about the Folklorist Process or share their experiences with other students.

Teachers interested in exploring folklore with their classes can enroll in the ePals Junior Folklorist Collaborative Project, which will connect students with other classrooms across the globe in an online interactive workspace. This four-week project will take an hour of class time on the computer each week and runs April 28 to May 23.

Individual students ages eight to eighteen can access these tools on the ePals challenge website and get started right away. Projects are due May 26 and can be submitted on the challenge site. All entries will be published on the ePals website—a lasting record of fieldwork by students about communities and culture. Six winners will be chosen by judges from both the Center and ePals. Prizes include a CD box set from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, a digital video camera, and a Field Notes pack. For more information, see the challenge guidelines.

For the Center, getting youth involved in studying folklore reflects our mission to research, present, and converse about the traditional knowledge and artistry of diverse communities. For students, it’s an opportunity to experience the rich heritage present in their own communities and explore new interests.

And as Jim Deutsch put it in his final instruction to students: “Above all, have fun and learn something!”

Maria Russell is an education intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Watch: The World’s 3D Experts Converge at the Smithsonian X 3D Conference

Smithsonian Magazine

Live streaming video by Ustream

Live streaming video by Ustream

Over the past few years, Adam Metallo, Vince Rossi and other members of the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office have used 3D scanning to solve a century-old murder mystery, preserve a millennia-old fossil whale site threatened by highway construction in Chile and digitally capture every nook and cranny of Abraham Lincoln’s face, as represented in a plaster mask made just before his death, among other feats.

Now, they’re bringing together dozens of the world’s leading experts on 3D scanning and printing at the Smithsonian X 3D Conference. The event, held today and tomorrow at the Freer-Sackler Meyer Auditorium and simulcast above, is a celebration of the digitization work that’s occurred so far and a discussion of how such technology will transform the Smithsonian Institution—as well as the state of science, museums and education as a whole—going forward.

One of the event’s biggest announcements is the beta release of the Smithsonian X 3D Explorer—a web-based interface that allows users to explore, share and print 3D models of dozens of the Smithsonian’s most remarkable artifacts, with more to follow over the coming years. This technology will allow for all sorts of new uses of historical artifacts and scientific specimens: Researchers can share items with colleagues for analysis, teachers can use virtual objects in classroom lessons and members of the public can get unprecedented access to Smithsonian items, many of which aren’t on display due to space limitations.

The 3D data for the items shown in the Explorer will also be downloadable in full resolution, allowing anyone with a 3D printer to create replicas of these objects at any scale. As a demonstration, the Digitization Office will be creating a full-scale, 26-foot long 3D print of one of the fossil whales from Chile.

“I think 3D printing technology is a huge game changer, because you can actually replicate the three dimensional physicality of an artifact,” says Paul Debevec, a computer graphics pioneer who will be delivering a keynote at the event. “When you’re working on proposed reconstructions of what an ancient artifact might have looked like, for instance, you don’t have to actually mess with the original artifact—you can scan it without touching it, print out what you’ve got, and three different historians can come up with three different ideas how of the item may have once looked.”

The Digitization office is also pursuing plans to construct a state-of-the-art 3D scanning and printing lab at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building on the Mall, currently under renovation. “We’re basically going to bring our lab to the public,” Vince Rossi says. “Like the fishbowl at the Natural History Museum—where staff work on fossils—we’re going to bring our 3D scanning efforts out into the public eye, so people can see what we’re working on.” Additionally, in the new space, they’ll make their high-end 3D scanning and printing equipment available for public use.

The conference will feature panels and keynote addresses from dozens of leaders in 3D technology, including Saul Griffith, the inventor and founder of Otherlab, and Ping Fu, the Chief Strategy Officer of 3D Systems. Together with Rossi, Metallo and other Smithsonian staff, they’ll examine how digitization will shape the future of the Smithsonian and grapple with the challenges of effectively digitizing and making publicly available millions of artifacts and specimens.

“For a museum curator, there are scary aspects to letting collections roam digitally on the internet,” Debevec says, “but it seems that Smithsonian curators understand the potential of all this, and I think they’re going to be on the forefront of making it happen.”

Watch the livestream above for coverage of the two-day conference.

Link Love: 5/8/2015

Smithsonian Institution Archives

What the iconic Windows XP “Bliss” wallpaper photo looks like before and after Commodore 64 conversion.

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Photographic History Collection: Gertrude Käsebier Collection

National Museum of American History
The Gertrude Käsebier Collection of American Indian portraits in the Photographic History Collection at the National Museum of American History consists of 112 platinum and gum-bichromate prints. The photographic prints are important visual records documenting Sioux Indian tribesmen, women, and children, in studio or non-Indian settings. Contrary to popular and sometimes staged late-19th-century imagery of American Indians in full ceremonial clothing and accessories, Käsebier captured on film the poignant expressions and personality of the Indians that reflected her personal experience of the true, “raw,” and “authentic” Native American. The photographs in the Collection are rare glimpses of Indians in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show; they exhibit Käsebier's renowned artistic, sensitive, and captivating style of pictoralism. The collection was donated to the Museum by Käsebier’s granddaughter Mina Turner, in March 1969. As a pioneering woman and artist, Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934) quickly developed an affinity for articulating her perceptions about the world through photography after studying painting at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute in 1889. She began her artistic career late in life, at the age of thirty-seven, after her three children, Frederick, Gertrude Jr., and Hermine, had reached adolescence. Her talent as a photographer was celebrated internationally, and she became active in the exclusive, emerging, male-dominated photographic world as a founding member of both the Photo Secession group and the Pictorial Photographers of America. Käsebier opened her own professional portrait studio in 1897 on New York’s Fifth Avenue, less than a decade after completing her courses at Pratt. Exhibiting her work with the Photo-Secessionists-- a group of highly regarded art photographers led by Alfred Stieglitz dedicated to producing photography as an equal to the traditional fine arts. This contributed to her rapid and widespread popularity. In high admiration of Käsebier’s portrait photography, Stieglitz commissioned her to photograph himself, his mother, and his wife. He also featured her work in the premiere issue of Camera Work, his noted photographic magazine. And in 1899, Stieglitz declared Käsebier as “beyond dispute, the leading portrait photographer in the country.” Käsebier drew upon her knowledge of painting to achieve two necessary goals for her portraits: (1) to exhibit personality-- “to make likenesses that are biographies, to bring out in each photograph the essential personality” and (2) to compose pictures clearly and simply. “One of the most difficult things to learn in painting is what to leave out. How to keep things simple. The same applies to photography. The value of composition cannot be over-estimated: upon it depends the harmony and the sentiment.” In applying this methodology to her photography, Käsebier stamped each image she captured with her personal touch and artistic signature. Gertrude Käsebier’s childhood memories of Eureka Gulch, Colorado, at the age of eight, included fond memories of relationships with the Sioux Indians and their children who were friendly toward her and her family. Taking portraits of the Sioux Indians was personally rewarding for Käsebier, who also contributed some of her portraits to the popular Everybody’s Magazine in 1901. According to her granddaughter, Mina Turner, Käsebier held a deep respect for the Sioux: “She felt they were the only truly honest people she knew.” Gertrude’s correspondence with these individuals through letters, drawings, and the photographs she took of them when they visited New York, testify to this special and valued relationship. Käsebier’s Native American portraits can be divided into two groups: Sioux Indians participating in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which traveled throughout the United States from the 1890s to 1915, and portraits of Zitkala Sa (also known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin), a writer, teacher, violinist, and voice of Indian rights. According to Smithsonian curator Michelle Delaney, “Gertrude Käsebier’s collection of Native American portraits is a poignant testimony to her independent spirit and her modern awarness of the possibilities of fine art photography.”

The Arrow-weeds: Environmentalists, Activists, and Artists

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Helena and Preston Arrow-weed teach a traditional dance in the Sounds of California Stage & Plaza. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Helena (center in red shawl) and Preston Arrow-weed (right) teach a traditional dance in the Sounds of California Stage & Plaza. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Gold mines and wind turbines are no match for Helena and Preston Arrow-weed.

Environmentalists, activists, educators—the Arrow-weeds are a force. They protect the sacred sites and desert ecosystem of their ancestral lands, the lower Colorado River region, through successfully protesting the creation of mines and turbines. They also dedicate themselves to the stimulation of tribal culture and increasing understanding of Native American history, culture, and art.

Bonded through their environmental causes, Helena and Preston have dramatically different personalities. Helena is quiet and reserved. She has the patience and grace of a seasoned teacher having  worked in many educational capacities—elementary school teacher, ESL teacher, and assistant professor.

Preston is outgoing and witty, with an irreverent deadpan humor that makes a heritage bearer of his renown approachable. He is a member of the Quechan Tribe of California and only one of a few who sing the sacred songs celebrating the rites of passage from birth to death and can sing them in the correct order. Multi-talented and multifaceted, he was also a Marine, a Hollywood actor, and is now a playwright.

At the 2016 Folklife Festival, Helena and Preston shared their personal stories, their causes, and the significance of the songs that Preston performs as Helena dances. 

Helena Arrow-Weed performing at the 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann, Ralph Rinzler Archives
Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

How did you meet?

Preston: Well, there I was minding my own business, and this woman came around with a rope, and she dragged me home.

Helena: Actually, we met at a hearing for environmental issues. We were both talking against it. I was really impressed with his presentation, protecting the desert and the animals—

Preston: It was love at first sight.

Helena: —and he had just such interesting stories and I thought, “Whoa. I am going to ask that guy to come to my classroom.” So I called the tribe and I asked them for Preston Arrow-weed. After a few calls, they finally gave me his number. We became friends after that.

Preston: I stayed over with her after that.


Preston Arrow-weed sharing songs and stories along with Kumeyaay tribe members Stan Rodriguez, Hwaa Hawk, and Raymond Martinez. Photo by Francisco Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Preston Arrow-weed sharing songs and stories along with Kumeyaay tribe members Stan Rodriguez, Hwaa Hawk, and Raymond Martinez. Photo by Francisco Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Patience and attention truly pay off with Preston’s style of storytelling. The plots wind down twisted paths populated by personified animals and superhuman beings, ending in foreign but ancestral landscapes of deserts, mountains, and oceans. Enraptured by giant talking snakes and frogs, you forget to listen for the moral—until it hits you like a ton of bricks at the end.


Why are traditional songs and stories so important?

Preston: They teach history, teach morals. Even though I think it has more to do folklore, it has deep meanings.  For instance, gold. In the creation story, there is a giant snake. This snake was created in anger. The creator was disappointed with his son, and they got in an argument. It was when the world was still wet and he was trying to mark it with a stick. The creator talked with his son, got angry and threw the stick down to the earth.

When the stick fell it became a snake, and because of the creator’s anger it became an angry snake. The snake’s head became poison, and his tail became a rattle from a piece of mud. The snake bit the first man that was created. The man was revived because it wasn’t time for his death, but then they took the snake and threw him to the north. Soon they forgot about him.

Sometime later on they said, “We have to get that snake because he is getting bigger and bigger. He is going to be dangerous.” So they went over there and tricked him. They told him they were going to build him a house, led him into it, and killed him.

But he knew that this was going to happen. He was wise. He knew that this was meant to be. He knew that this was his purpose, that he was a part of the plan of the universe.  He knew that he had to play the role through.

Preston Arrow-Weed presenting at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2016. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann
Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

He showed up at the house. The creator’s son was waiting at the entrance of the house with a big stone obsidian knife. The snake created four heads to scare the creator’s son.  The creator’s son  chopped off all four heads and killed the snake.

The creator’s son took the snake’s body and laid it across the shore so that the ocean couldn’t come up onto it—that is the mountains. Then the head that came off, he smashed it up and the spittle became silver. The snake’s urine went to the ocean—that is what makes the ocean powerful. And his blood was gold.

Today we know the power of the snake, but we also know the power of the snake’s blood. Today people misuse the power of the snake’s blood. And look what it has done to the world. For that snake’s blood, people have killed each other. Wars are going on now because of it. The whole country is fighting over it.

So these songs really have a deep meaning about the belief of my people.  So if everyone knew this story, they would learn that there is no moderation when it comes to power. You ruin everything around you. The snake’s blood is very powerful. It ruins everything.

How did you learn these stories and songs?

Preston: I heard it, I joined in, and I picked it up. It was not like today: “this is the way you sing” and “this is the way you say that.” They would say, “Go ahead and join me.”

For a long time I really didn’t know what I was saying. I had to analyze the words before I understood what it really meant. Today there are many phonetic singers, but they do not know what it means. I don’t sing phonetically.

I think for that reason, I became an environmentalist because—knowing these things and ignoring it, I couldn’t do it. Now, I’ll make the statement. I am involved in environmental issues because of the songs. If every singer knew what their songs meant, they would be right here beside me.

Helena and Preston Arrow-weed, accompanied by Maricella Rodriguez, present a radio drama that Preston is developing. Photo by Francisco Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Helena and Preston Arrow-weed, accompanied by Maricella Rodriguez, present a radio drama that Preston is developing. Photo by Francisco Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

What is it like to share your traditions at the Folklife Festival?

When I was coming down here, I was thinking, I am going to D.C. and I am going to spill my guts about my tribe, my songs, and everything. But why am I doing this? Is it for the money? The attention? For the tribe? But it is not my land. It is those peoples’ land.

I am not talking about Washington, D.C., and what it is today. I am talking about the ancient people who once lived here. They had a belief. They had a religion. They had everything. And here I am going to bring mine onto their land? It is wrong.

So I said, since no one is there from their people, I am going to bring my traditions there and do it for them. I am sharing what is mine and trying to help them. I do align myself with them. I am doing this for those people.


Before each performance, Preston made a statement, directing focus to the ancestral inhabitants of the D.C. area and paying respect to their land, their traditions, and their history. He respected the local Native history by acknowledging its existence, his activist and environmentalist nature enacted in every moment of his life.

SarahVictoria Rosemann is a media intern for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She has a degree in ethnomusicology, with a focus in Tibetology, and grew up in Reno, Nevada. 

The 2016 Sounds of California Smithsonian Folklife Festival program was co-produced with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Radio Bilingüe, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Smithsonian Latino Center.

“It Is Heritage”: Two Families of Cloth Dyers in Dakar, Senegal

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

According to Sekou (Cheikh) Fofana, his skill as a dyer is a direct result of his love for his mother. His parents are deceased, but he keeps large portraits of them in his home in Guédiawaye, a large suburb of Dakar, Senegal.

His father was a Guinean Soninke itinerant trader, who was often away for long periods. Sekou’s mother was a Malian Soninke dyer, who used the synthetic dyes that became widely available in West Africa from the 1960s. Soninke people are an old and storied Mande ethnic group, particularly known for travel and trade, Islamic scholarship, and cloth dyeing.

From his relatives on his father’s side, Sekou knows a bit about the complex processes of gathering, processing, and dyeing with indigo. But it is from his mother that Sekou derives his skills: as a child, he was constantly by her side, learning much of what she knew. With this multilayered family legacy, dyeing is more than a business for Sekou: “o kɛra ciyɛn,” he says in Bamanankan. “It is heritage.”

Like many African textile artists working in urban settings, Sekou walks a professional tightrope. He must produce cloth that will sell in competitive, fashion-centered Dakar, which often means making things with new, rapid techniques on inexpensive materials. At the same time, keeping in business is what allows Sekou to sustain and teach traditional dyeing skills, techniques that are laborious and complex, yielding pieces that are highly valued but slow to sell. Sekou is open-minded and experimental in his approach to new techniques like silkscreen printing. The balancing act today is to transform his dyeing heritage without destroying it.

Senegalese textile art
Fashionable cloth like this “VIP” will be sold in a marketplace or boutique, then tailored into garments like dresses, top-and-skirt ensembles, or boubous (a voluminous West African robe). Clients may approach dyers to create custom pieces, or purchase from merchants who commission material from dyers like Sekou.
Photo by Rebecca Fenton
Senegalese textile art
Cloth decorated with stitch-resist by members of the Wagué family. Despite the apparent design limitation of the tiny straight lines of sewn thread, Fatoumata creates a varied and lively composition of motifs that seem to shimmer on the cloth. Some of the motifs are passed down in the family, while others are her own design.
Photo by Rebecca Fenton

The terminology used in contemporary cloth decoration also reflects a regard for old techniques, even as new methods supplant them. The silkscreens themselves are called clichés, French for “film” or “printing plate,” as they are produced through photographic means. To describe the printed motifs, artists borrow from hand techniques, like miselini (Bamanankan, “little needle”) or takka (Wolof, “to tie”).

Although almost any image can be created on the silkscreens, often the motifs or the style of drawing them likewise refer to the hand techniques that artists and consumers continue to value. Silkscreens have been used in cloth decoration in Mali since at least the 1990s, but have attained new heights of popularity across West Africa since about 2013. In 2015 and 2016, shimmer ink became available, and the radiant cloths printed with it were marketed as “VIP,” evoking prestigious cosmopolitan style.

Senegalese textile art
Fatoumata Wagué holds a work in progress. This lightweight cotton cloth is about twenty feet long and will become a mulahfa, a wrap-around garment like the one she is wearing.
Photo by Rebecca Fenton

The women of the Wagué family, a prominent clan in the central neighborhood of Grand Dakar, have practiced dyeing nearly all their lives. Now in middle age, they have ceased to dye for income, but they continue to create elaborate stitch-resist cloths as a hobby—only for the pleasure of creating. The lexicon of marks, stitches, and designs they possess provides a well of creativity, grounded in the past.

Skilled in the design of intricate, multicolored resist patterns, the Wagués had no interest in adopting the quicker, cheaper techniques that have become prevalent in Dakar, but the declining prices of dyed and decorated cloth have effectively pushed them out of the market. They are proud to have sent the young people in their family to school, but they are concerned that their skills were not being passed on and troubled by knowledge they themselves had lost.

But “in the village, they still know,” they said, voicing the widely held imagining of “the village” as a repository of tradition skills and values. I was able to meet one of the “village” Wagués, and she did indeed “still know” and more importantly, still do, some of these old skills, particularly the dense stitch-resist for which Soninke dyers are renowned.

Unlike the silkscreens, which are used to apply designs after the cloth has been dyed, the older methods of decoration involve resist techniques, meaning that artists use knots, thread, wax, or resin to create the spaces where color will not go. Indigo and other natural colorants require careful preparation according to often secret vat recipes. By contrast, dyeing with synthetic dyes appears simple.

Senegalese textile art
A stand featuring cloths decorated with stitch-resist, wax resist, and other techniques, made by Fatoumata Wagué and others from Matam, Senegal.
Photo by Rebecca Fenton
Senegalese textile art
Aminata (left) and Binetou carry the batiste out to dry in the street midway through its printing process. The pattern will be completed with a second color and design filling in the grid.
Photo by Rebecca Fenton

According to Sekou, it is the mixing of sophisticated colors, creating attractive and attention-grabbing tones with reliable results, which requires experience and skill. Many people may dabble in dyeing, having seen dye packets for sale in shops and dyers at work in their neighbors’ courtyards, but without appreciating the complexity of the work involved. Sekou is a kind and attentive teacher, but it has been hard for him to find an apprentice who will work with him long enough to learn all he has to share.

Dyeing represents an ancient tradition and an important economic activity across West Africa, with many local variations. In many places, including Mali and Senegal, dyeing cloth has historically been the domain of women, and all the stages of cloth production moved back and forth between women’s and men’s work. To generalize, men grow cotton, women card and spin it, men weave, women dye, men tailor garments. There are exceptions, and the techniques and the social contexts of work change.

Senegalese textile art
Fatou ties a series of small knots in a white shirt with thread, in preparation for dyeing.
Photo by Rebecca Fenton

Along with dramatic urbanization and increasing Islamization during the twentieth century, which affected many traditions, new technologies have also played a role in transforming textile traditions, from the introduction of manufactured cloths, to machine-spun cotton yarn, to vivid synthetic dyes that became widely available from the 1960s.

Like these earlier technologies, silkscreen printing has changed the equations of labor and value in cloth production. It doesn’t make sense to invest months of embroidery work, like the Wagués’, into a low-quality cloth that will not be durable, for example. However, silkscreens go down just as rapidly on the best, most costly manufactured cloth as on the inexpensive batiste.

The lightweight batiste cloth is bright, attractive, and desirable for the hot summer months. Even when decorated, however, it is cheap, not expected to last more than a season. It is essentially fast-fashion. In Dakar, where many potential clients lack much purchasing power, demand for lower costs drives the development of faster methods and cheaper goods.

Despite these pressures, the older, slower methods persist. Sekou and his family, the Wagués, and other dyers travel to learn from practitioners in small towns in Senegal and neighboring countries. On one occasion in Guédiawaye, I observed Sekou, his relative Fatou, and his assistant Moussa working on hand-tied resists. They spread their work on the cool tile floor of Fatou’s courtyard, taking care to show me the different motifs they created. Their delight and pride in these hand skills suffused the little space as we worked into the evening. Without prompting, Fatou’s daughter imitated her mother’s deft movements as she picked up scraps and began to try some ties.

Senegalese textile art
Fatou’s daughter tries tie-resist techniques with cloth scraps.
Photo by Rebecca Fenton

The immense popularity of artisanal fashion cloth in West Africa at once sustains and threatens the embodied knowledge that the Fofanas and the Wagués have inherited. Here at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, a new initiative called Crafts of African Fashion will explore the role of traditional craft skills in the contemporary fashion industry and promote sustainable cultural heritage enterprises. The initiative will launch at this year’s Folklife Festival, where visitors to the Festival Marketplace will be able to meet and observe the work of visiting master artisans from Africa and enjoy a display of contemporary clothing by designers from Africa and the African diaspora.

Rebecca Fenton is a predoctoral fellow at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and National Museum of Natural History. She recently completed her Ph.D. in art history at Indiana University. Her research focuses on expressive dress and other forms of creativity in everyday life in Africa.

Sink or Float: Water and Design Solutions

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
People around the world are confronted with rising water, drought conditions, and increased weather extremes. Presenters from the Smithsonian's National Design Museum discuss the ways that designers are responding with innovative solutions�_�from floating houses to energy produced by ocean waves.
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