Accessibility links

Five New Sculptures Welcome Visitors to American Indian Museum


Artist Nora Naranjo-Morse made them out of natural materials that are not permanent. The sculptures are designed to slowly return to the earth. First in a four-part series on Keeping Traditions Alive. Transcript of radio broadcast:

VOICE ONE:

I'm Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And I'm Shirley Griffith with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English We begin a series of programs about efforts to keep alive old ways of doing things that are culturally important. Today we tell about a large outdoor art project made of traditional natural materials.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

The new National Museum of the American Indian is near the United States Capitol building on the grassy mall area in Washington, D.C. The museum building is made of yellow rocks. They are roughly cut and placed so the outside walls look like the tall cliffs in the American Southwest.

The design of the building is very different from the other museums and government buildings that are in the center of Washington. Most of these well known buildings are made of white or gray marble or concrete. They look like most building, designed and built by people. The Indian museum reminds people of the natural, native world. Yet the National Museum of the American Indian, like all the other buildings in the city, is designed to look the same forever.

VOICE TWO:

Something very different has risen from a small space of ground outside the south side of the museum. Five large new sculptures have been built there to welcome visitors. These tall graceful statues are not like most outdoor art, which is made of stone or metal.

They are made of materials used by people throughout the world to make their homes. The artist made the sculptures out of local natural resources that are not permanent. The sculptures are designed to slowly return to the earth.

VOICE ONE:

Nora Naranjo-Morse is the artist. She is a Native American from Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico. She grew up in a family that made pots from the clay dug from the ground near their Pueblo. She is a sculptor who usually works with clay or bronze. She is also a poet and filmmaker.

In two thousand six, the National Museum of the American Indian announced that Miz Naranjo-Morse won a design competition for outdoor sculptures to be placed next to the museum. The sculptures would celebrate the third anniversary of the museum, which opened September twenty-first, two thousand four. The judges chose her design from among fifty-five entries by artists from Native communities in North America and South America.

VOICE TWO:

Nora Naranjo-Morse says she had been thinking for a while that she would like to create some public sculptures that would be forever changing. When she heard about the competition of the National Museum of the American Indian she decided to propose building sculptures that would wear away over time. She thought it was be especially interesting in a city like Washington, D.C., where most of the art and the buildings are permanent. She named her sculpture project “Always Becoming.”

VOICE ONE:

The five sculptures that resulted are from more than two meters to almost six meters tall. Three are together in one grassy area outside the museum. They are named Mother, Father and Little One. Two larger ones are sheltered nearby under a tall old elm tree. They are named Moon Woman and Mountain Bird.

All of them are made of organic materials from the earth -- clay, dirt, water, sand, straw, wood and stone. Through the years they will slowly wear away. They will always be changing and becoming something new as the weather works on them. As the outside wears away, something else will appear.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

Nora Naranjo-Morse says her sculpture project is based on how Native people through history have been affected by their environment. She says the Native community sees itself as always changing to react to the social, political and natural environment.

She says the idea that art, objects and buildings are not permanent is part of Native culture. A long time ago Native Americans made their cooking pots from clay. When a pot broke, it became part of the earth again. Houses were built from natural materials. When the houses were no longer used, they slowly returned to the earth.

VOICE ONE:

Miz Naranjo-Morse began thinking the sculptures should involve designs of Native homes. She wanted them to also represent male and female relations, family and community. Then she says she started playing with ideas, drawing them, and finally making models. Yet she still did not know exactly how the sculptures would look when they were finished.

VOICE TWO:

She was not really concerned about the exact shape the sculptures would take because she had a feeling that they would find their own voice. She says: “They grew to be whatever they wanted.” That is the way she usually creates her art. She starts with an idea of what she wants to express and what materials she will use. As she works, she says, the art seems to develop its own life.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

In May, Nora Naranjo-Morse arrived in Washington from her home in Espanola, New Mexico to begin building the sculptures. The work would take one month. She had several helpers, including her niece from Arizona, Athena Swentzell Steen, Athena’s husband Bill, and their children. The Steens are experts at building structures of natural materials. Don Juan Morales of Durango, Mexico, and his family also helped with the project. They also had experience with natural building materials. They all worked together as a team.

The crew found large gray stones to make a solid base for the sculptures. They gathered dirt, sand, clay and straw from the local area. They used their hands and sometimes feet to mix the dry material with water in large containers.

VOICE TWO:

The sculptures rose from the ground as the handfuls of the wet dirt and straw mixture were added to each shape. They grew slowly. Each layer of the wet mix had to be firmly connected to the dry part. Then it had to dry hard in the sun before any more material could be added.

Workers at the Indian Museum and in offices near the museum stopped every day to see how the pieces were changing. Some helped build the sculptures. Groups of small children from the Smithsonian’s Early Education Center helped mix the mud and put it on with their hands. So did a group of teachers who wanted to learn about traditional Native American building methods to teach their students.

VOICE ONE:

The sculptures are all different. Two of them, Father and Mountain Bird, are made of black locust tree branches. The long wood pieces are placed in a wide circle at the bottom. The poles lean in until they come together at the top like tepees that were used as homes by the Plains Indians of North America. Spaces between the wood poles are filled with woven mats made from bamboo growing near the museum. Vines will grow up the sculptures and enclose them, changing their appearance.

Inside the Father sculpture is a special piece of wood. Miz Naranjo-Morse’s parents cut it in New Mexico more than fifty year ago to use as a support in a building.

The Mother sculpture is a small rounder clay shape. It has a hole in the center. When you look through it you see a large stone that marks the southern point of the museum.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

At the end of the summer, Nora Naranjo-Morse and some of her crew returned for a week to finish the rough sculptures. They made a smooth mix of dirt, sand and water to cover the outside of the sculptures. Natural colors from different clays were added to the plaster. The plaster dried hard and smooth in the sun. Then they carved Native American designs into some of the surfaces.

VOICE ONE:

The work of building the sculptures is over. The many hands are through shaping them. Yet sun and rain, snow and wind will continue to shape them through the years. The sculptures will always be changing, always becoming something new.

As Nora Naranjo-Morse wrote in her book, "Mud Woman, Poems from the Clay": “There is nothing like an idea that comes to life through clay.”

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

This program was written by Marilyn Rice Christiano and produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Shirley Griffith.

VOICE ONE:

And I'm Steve Ember. You can get more information about activities celebrating the anniversary of the National Museum of the American Indian at our Web site voaspecialenglish.com. Listen again next month to EXPLORATIONS for another in a series of programs about efforts to keep traditional ways alive.

XS
SM
MD
LG