Treasures of Native American Collection Showcased in Smithsonian’s New Permanent Exhibition

November 23, 2010
News Release

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Some of the most significant works in Native American art and history have returned to the public view in New York City at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the George Gustav Heye Center. A comprehensive exhibit that encompasses Native cultures, traditions and art, “Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian” comprises some 700 works that span the hemisphere from prehistory to the present day. The ongoing, permanent exhibition opened Oct. 23.

Exhibition highlights include:

  • A display of 10 headdresses, including a 5-foot Kayapó macaw-and-heron feather headdress from Brazil, a Yup’ik bentwood hunting hat adorned with ivory carvings from the Arctic and a rare Assiniboine antelope-horn headdress from the northern Plains.

  • A peace medal granted by the General Court of Massachusetts Bay in 1676 during King Philip’s War given to Native scouts recruited from a forced internment camp. These scouts later were instrumental in securing land rights for their people.

  • Leg garters associated with the legendary Seminole leader Osceola (1803-1838).

  • A ceremonial pipe-tomahawk presented to Chief Tecumseh (Shawnee, 1768-1813) by British commander Col. Henry Proctor, during the War of 1812.

  • 2,000-year-old duck decoys created by the ancient peoples of the Great Basin.

“Infinity of Nations” illustrates the richness of Native traditional and contemporary art with Olmec and Mayan carvings, a Charles and Isabella Edenshaw (Haida)-painted spruce-root hat, elaborate Northwest Coast masks and works by artists Allan Houser (Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache), Norval Morrisseau (Ojibwe) and Rick Bartow (Mad River Wiyot).

With commentary by Native scholars, leaders and community members, “Infinity of Nations” demonstrates how much Native America was interconnected before European contact and how Native peoples and Europeans together made colonial history. The exhibition discusses the ongoing nature of cultural dynamism throughout the Americas and reveals how the visual arts were important vehicles in this exchange.

The collections of the National Museum of the American Indian are considered to be one of the most extensive holdings of Native American arts and artifacts in the world. The majority of objects were assembled by George Gustav Heye (1874–1957), founder of the former Museum of the American Indian. The collection of the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1989, when President George H.W. Bush signed legislation to establish the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution. The New York museum, the George Gustav Heye Center, opened in October 1994 in the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House at One Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York, the George Gustav Heye Center, is located at One Bowling Green in New York City, across from Battery Park. The museum is free and open every day (except Dec. 25) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursdays until 8 p.m. For information, call (212) 514-3700 or visit


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