Art in the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Village

IMG_5473

Greetings!  One of the great things about spending our days at the Museum is that we get to enjoy our wonderful boardwalk for lunchtime walks and peaceful escapes from the fast pace of the office.  If you have never visited the Museum, we hope you come and have this same experience.  While you’re here, it’s worth your while to make the journey to our village, which is at the mid-point of the circular trail.   It is the crown jewel of our boardwalk, nestled in the far southwest corner of the cypress dome. When a visitor starts the boardwalk journey, he or she is met with this sign.

IMG_5475

It sits in front of a picturesque banana tree, and it points the way to a “Seminole Camp”. This is our village, but there is nothing on the sign to tell the visitor what experience awaits. As one continues along the mile-long boardwalk through the tranquil trees, this map appears at the halfway point to the village.

IMG_5480

Again it beckons with little information, but hopefully provides incentive to the walker, by showing how far he or she has come. Finally, at the entire boardwalk’s halfway point, an arrow points toward the chickees of the village and nearby ceremonial grounds. If you’re lucky, you may witness a totem pole being carved here by a Seminole artist, or even a wild bird show by our resident falconry expert. But it is by carrying on past this point that you reach our village.

IMG_5486

Until the boardwalk was recently re-designed, it was possible to fail to notice the winding entrance, shrouded by trees. The entrance beckoned some visitors, but others felt they were intruding and passed it by. For the latter category, many glimpsed the chickees and perhaps the fire, and thought they would invade private homes if they ventured any further. This is a funny conclusion for those of us who work at the Museum, but we have heard it’s true! Hopefully now this mistake cannot be made, as one must pass through the village in order to complete the boardwalk journey. Other feedback from visitors who took advantage of the village entrance, stepping off the boardwalk to admire the setting as well as the artwork they found there, has been equally surprising. Those visitors noticed and sometimes commented on the electric fans, refrigerators, radios, and other evidence of modern life, like the smart phones that some of the employees have there. But why should this be surprising? These items are found anywhere that people today work and spend their time. We think it is because some uninformed visitors expect to step into the past when they enter our village. They see a thatched roof, and perhaps people wearing patchwork, and mistakenly think that those individuals are portraying a historic time period, perhaps as long as 75 years ago, when tourist camps began to flourish in Florida.

The postcard below shows a woman and child in one of these historic villages. In such a village, Seminole men and women would demonstrate customs and crafts for visitors. The woman in the postcard is sewing patchwork using a type of antique hand-cranked sewing machine that was used by many Seminole women at the time. But sewing machines like this were not always available, and at one time, Seminole women sewed only by hand. I wonder if visitors to popular villages such as Musa Isle, in Miami, wondered why sewing machines were featured in that camp, the way they wonder the same thing about relatively modern equipment at our village today. The fact of the matter is that in both cases, the people in the village were contemporary artists using their preferred mediums and tools. Hand cranked sewing machines were common in Seminole camps 75 years ago. But today, electric sewing machines are more commonly used by Seminole textile artists. So why wouldn’t today’s artists use contemporary tools and conveniences?

Figure1

Historic Postcard in the Museum’s Collection (ATTK Catalog No. 2003.15.233)

We at the Museum would like to revolutionize the way many people think of craftspeople in villages that are open to tourists today. If you enter one of these villages, you are privileged to enter the studios of modern Seminole artists, who constantly design new products in order to keep their art fresh and relevant. Never expect these people to be stuck in the past. It’s easy to imagine why such an artist would use modern tools to produce art quickly, and why they might want a refrigerator, radio, or phone while they work! A tourist camp in the 1940’s and the Museum’s village today have something in common. The craftspeople found therein were and are the modern artists of their time, none of them stuck in the past, portraying people from past decades.

IMG_5491

Artist Lena Cypress makes a basket behind a colorful display of her artwork for sale in the village

In the Museum’s village, arrays of colorful beads and textiles are displayed in shady chickees that provide a welcome refuge from the heat for both the visitor and the artist. If you are lucky, you will be able to see and talk to an artist making a piece of jewelry, a doll, or a basket. Although these techniques have been passed down among artists for generations, innovations in style can be seen in many of the pieces. Woodworking is also a common occurrence. Our woodcarver Jeremiah is happy to show off the stages of making a hatchet, or to talk about the chickee he carved them in, because he also built that structure!

IMG_5503

Whimsical items throughout the village serve as conversation pieces for visiting children and adults alike. A life-like alligator sits next to a very trusting bird, as often happens with the live versions of these creatures. And a stylish archer takes aim at them from a safe distance. A display of collectibles sits in front of a fire under a chickee. The fire is an essential feature for a village. In ours, it protects nearby people by driving mosquitos and more dangerous animals away!

IMG_5488 IMG_5494 IMG_5498

Now a large welcome sign hangs at the village entrance, and hopefully no visitor will wonder whether they are welcome in the village. On the back, it thanks the visitor in the Mikasuki language for their visit.

IMG_5616

Museum Director Paul Backhouse enjoys viewing the new sign during his lunchtime walk

After you leave the village, a well-placed bench gives you an opportunity to rest and look back on the picturesque village, while a nearby sign lets you congratulate yourself by making it more than halfway around the boardwalk. The remaining walk back to the Museum leads you through what is often the swampiest and most wildlife-filled area of the dome.
IMG_5512

When you visit the Museum, please take the boardwalk journey not only to experience our village, but also to learn from the signs along the way about animals, plants, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida clan system. Very soon there will be a few more signs that describe the village and ceremonial grounds, so come back often to see what’s new! As always, we welcome feedback from our visitors. So tell us what you think on our Facebook page ( https://tinyurl.com/mvtc583 ), or in person when you visit!

Advertisements

Author: Collections Division

The Collections Division manages the Museum's collections, produces and maintains exhibits, conducts the oral history program, and staffs the Museum's village.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s