Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Peabody Essex Museum

all photos from

Name: Peabody Essex Museum
Tribe: various nations
Location: East India Square, 161 Essex Street, Salem, MA 01970
Type: Museum, Archive/Library
Visiting Info: Open Tues-Sun, 10am-5pm (9pm on 3rd Thursday of every month). Admission: $10-$18.
Contact: Website, telephone 978-745-9500, 866-745-1876

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, is one of the oldest continuously operating museums in the United States and has one of the oldest collections of Native American art in the Americas. Although it has a history steeped in the traditional narrative of the white explorer collecting "curiosities" from exotic Native communities, the museum is making strides to present Native art thoughtfully and collaboratively today.

The PEM got its start in 1799 when the East India Marine Company was chartered from Salem's community of shipping captains with the provision to create a museum from the interesting things they brought home from their world travels. The modern collection focuses heavily on Maritime art and history, Asian art, Native art, and historic architecture.

In 2012, the PEM staged Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art, one of the largest presentations of Native art in decades, consisting of 80 works from a wide array of media. Shapeshifting mixed traditional and modern art pieces based on themes, which is an unusual presentation for Native art. The exhibit was highly respected and received a lot of complementary media attention.

The current, smaller Native art exhibit, Raven's Many Gifts: Native Art of the Northwest Coast, is on view until to December 27, 2015. It showcases traditional and contemporary art from Pacific Northwest tribes, focusing on themes of "Living Stories, Family Connections and Market Innovations."

The PEM offers paid internships to Native graduate students who are interested in pursuing museum studies and other cultural professions. The program is designed to bring more Native representation and perspectives into the museum field and to promote Native leadership in the cultural professions.

Peabody Essex is also committed to building partnerships with contemporary Native artists and to promote Native culture and values through their involvement with the ECHO Project (Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations).

Note: One of the most beloved pieces from the Shapeshifting exhibit was Nicholas Galanin's (Tlingit/Aleut) "Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan part 1 and part 2" which translates to "We Will Again Open This Container of Wisdom That Has Been Left in Our Care" (2006). The two videos that comprise the artwork, one of a breakdancer over traditional Tlingit music and the other of a traditional dancer in regalia dancing to EDM, can be viewed here.

Wall Street Journal article from Jan. 18, 2012, "Artifacts to Artworks."
Boston Globe article from Feb. 3, 2012, "Review: Two museum show Native American art, then and now."

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