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Thursday, May 31 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Research and Technical Studies + Textiles) Untangling Indian Hemp: Understanding and Identifying Common Plant Fibers Used by Native Americans in the Woodlands Region

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Bast fibers from North American plant species make up a significant portion of textiles produced by Woodlands cultures. These fibers, which are derived from the inner stems of certain plant species, are a traditional and important to many nations in the Northeast and Great Lakes region, yet have received little attention from Western-focused academia. Much of the literature and fiber identification is unclear, incorrect, or based on a Western perspective. Fibers are frequently referred to as “Indian Hemp,” which aside from being an inherently problematic term, has several meanings. This research aims to collaborate with Indigenous community members to identify traditional fiber producing plants and how they utilized to produce textiles. Three Native American experts in fiber preparation were invited to the National Museum of the American Indian Cultural Resource Center to share and discuss harvesting, processing and weaving, as well as the cultural and material significance of these fibers. As an outcome, a handling collection of physical samples as well as polarized light and scanning electron micrographs will be created to aid in understanding of both the macro and micro properties of these materials. The reference collections and appropriate associated cultural information are available to conservators, curators, and Native and non-Native researchers to improve accuracy of fiber identification, enhance material understanding, and reinforce cultural knowledge. Images will also be made available on online for wider access. By understanding both the physical and cultural context of materials, conservators can make more appropriate decisions about the care of our collections. Allowing indigenous voices to be the authority on their own cultural heritage not only begins the decolonization process of museums, but enriches the institution as well.

avatar for Nora Frankel

Nora Frankel

Mellon Fellow in Textile Conservation, National Museum of the American Indian
Nora Frankel is an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Textile Conservation at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. Past work includes positions at the Rijksmuseum, Burrell Collection, Death Valley National Park, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, and... Read More →

avatar for Susan C. Heald

Susan C. Heald

Textile Conservator, National Museum of the American Indian
Susan Heald has been the National Museum of the American Indian’s textile conservator since 1994, where she has supervised many pre-program interns and post-graduate fellows. Prior to NMAI, she served as the Minnesota Historical Society’s textile conservator, and was a Smithsonian... Read More →
avatar for Thomas Lam

Thomas Lam

Physical Scientist, Museum Conservation Institute, Smithsonian
Thomas Lam has a Ph.D. in Ceramics from Alfred University. After his PhD, Thomas completed a postdoc at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Thomas is a Physical Scientist at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI), where he applies his knowledge... Read More →

Thursday May 31, 2018 2:30pm - 3:00pm MDT
River Oaks Meeting Room Marriott Marquis Houston