by Rosemary Regan, OEC exhibits editor
Editing usually involves working on someone else’s writing, but with this project I had the fun of writing an exhibit from scratch.
NMAI had decided to put a new exhibit in its “Windows on Collections” cases. The nine cases had previously held beadwork, but since they were located near the children’s activity center, it was decided that a display of toys, games, and beautifully sewn children’s clothing would be more appropriate. Curator Mary Jane Lenz would select the pieces and provide the themes. I was asked to write the words.
The objects come from Native communities all over North and South America, and they range from dolls to lacrosse sticks and “snowsnakes” (a type of javelin-throwing game) to a baby’s embroidered parka. One area was set aside for more grown-up games — games of skill and traditional games of chance, like the “hand game” that Native peoples have played for centuries across North America.
I drafted a few short, simple, kid-friendly texts on the show’s main themes (Clothed in Tradition, Learning by Playing, Games Bring Us Together). Then I got to see the selected objects at NMAI’s Cultural Resource Center. Whenever I was baffled by an object — every kid has played with toy dishes, but how do you play with a toy manioc squeezer from Suriname? — Mary Jane would fill me in, or point me to another expert, and from that I would draft a short label. I also did a little book- and Web-based research on such arcane subjects as elk teeth (used for decoration), the history of Apache playing cards, and the refinements of throwing a snowsnake.
This project has been play for me.