This is a part of an ongoing collection of interviews with all of the curators employed as a part of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Because of Her Story. Sara Cohen is the digital audiences and content material coordinator for the initiative. She shares lesser-known histories of girls through the Because of Her Story web site and e-newsletter, and Smithsonian social media.
As a curator at two museums directly, Anya Montiel occupies a uncommon place on the Smithsonian. She works because the curator of American and Native American ladies’s artwork and craft. This is a joint place between the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Montiel ensures Native American ladies’s historical past is included by buying artworks for the museums’ collections, writing scholarly publications, and organizing exhibitions, and extra.
Sara Cohen: What is it prefer to work for each the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian?
Anya Montiel: Working between two museums has been actually rewarding, as a result of I’m able to help with initiatives and exhibitions at each. Also, I’ve proposed new artwork acquisitions for the 2 museums. For instance, SAAM and NMAI have acquired face masks made by Native artists of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Those masks will assist future guests perceive responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe these masks can be seen by folks 100 years from now!
To share these masks with the general public, I wrote concerning the face masks for SAAM’s weblog and spoke about them in an internet program organized by SAAM with two Smithsonian curators from the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of the American Indian. We spoke concerning the medical historical past of face masks and the impression of COVID-19 on Indigenous communities within the United States. These are a few of some ways we’re sharing our work with guests through the pandemic.
SC: What’s one ladies’s historical past story you would like extra folks knew?
AM: At NMAI, there’s a statue contained in the museum, known as “Allies in War, Partners in Peace.” The bronze statue depicts three folks, with a lady within the heart. I used to be a lead cultural interpreter on the NMAI starting in 2007. I led each day excursions of the exhibitions to the general public and faculty teams. When I ended at this statue, guests would usually assume the lady was Pocahontas. When you ask folks about Native American ladies, many solely know the identify Pocahontas—and perhaps Sacagawea.
They don’t know that there have been numerous Native ladies who formed American historical past. The lady within the statue is Polly Cooper of the Oneida nation. She traveled greater than 400 miles from central New York to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, through the Revolutionary War, to ship meals to General George Washington’s ravenous troops. She wished to make it possible for all of the troopers had been fed. The Colonial Army tried to pay her for her service, however she refused. She did settle for a present of a scarf and bonnet from Martha Washington. Polly Cooper’s descendants proceed to treasure these presents a whole lot of years later. Once guests discovered about her, they realized how a lot is lacking from historical past books concerning the contributions of Native American ladies and ladies on the whole.
SC: Was there a second that modified the way you consider ladies’s historical past?
AM: When I used to be in faculty, I took a category known as History of American Women. I used to be excited to be taught extra about American historical past. While I loved the category, it wasn’t what I’d hoped. The professor solely spoke concerning the historical past of European American and African American ladies. There had been no Native American, Asian, Latinx, or different ladies included. I couldn’t perceive why a category would exclude complete teams of girls. I noticed that the professor and I had totally different concepts of what historic moments and ladies mattered. That expertise pushed me in direction of my analysis in Native American Studies, as a result of there are various ladies who proceed to be lacking from faculty textbooks and class lectures. Their tales should be researched, recorded, and informed.
SC: How does your work on the Smithsonian change what folks perceive about American ladies’s historical past?
AM: My first work week coincided with the opening of the exhibition, Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists, at SAAM’s Renwick Gallery. The exhibition featured paintings by greater than 100 Native ladies artists throughout North America. The exhibition’s catalogue factors out that, “much if not most Native art is made by women.” I had by no means thought of it that manner, however it’s true! When folks see Native baskets, pottery, clothes, beadwork, and different objects in museums, most of these works had been made by ladies. This is very true for older artworks.
Unfortunately, the names of these ladies weren’t recorded. The labels usually have a normal description, resembling “blanket (Navajo).” Through an exhibition like Hearts of Our People, guests stroll through the gallery and visualize Native ladies as grasp artists. They higher perceive how Native ladies are the artwork academics of youthful generations. Women are the creators and innovators of those artwork kinds.
SC: What would you say to a center faculty pupil concerned with studying extra about ladies’s historical past?
AM: If college students need to be taught extra about ladies’s historical past, I’d advise them to learn books about ladies and by ladies authors. If you need to learn books about Native Americans and Native ladies and ladies, the American Indian Library Association offers awards to the perfect younger grownup books. I all the time go to that web site earlier than recommending books for youthful readers.
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The Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Because of Her Story, funds curators to analysis and share ladies’s historical past at museums and facilities throughout the Smithsonian. To assist extra ladies’s historical past analysis, you’ll be able to join our e-newsletter to remain in contact. You may donate to the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.