The gorgeous, intricate and historic ribbonwork of the Miami people is getting a special show in Oxford very soon.
The Miami University Art Museum and Sculpture Park will feature three new exhibitions this spring, which will open on Tuesday, Jan. 28. One of the featured exhibitions, “Myaamia Ribbonwork,” will highlight the ribbonwork of the Miami people.
Several pieces in the exhibition are on loan from the Smithsonian, and there will be a pair of moccasins and a pair of men’s leggings from the Bata Shoe Museum that will be on display for the first time in a museum setting in the United States.
The exhibition is a collaboration between the Myaamia Center on campus at Miami University and the Miami University Art Museum.
George Ironstrack, assistant director/program director at the Myaamia Center at Miami University, said the Myaamia Center is an initiative of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.
He said the Center has two main purposes: to conduct in-depth research to assist tribal educational initiatives aimed at the preservation of language and culture and to expose undergraduate and graduate students at Miami University to tribal efforts in language and cultural revitalization.
The craft of ribbonwork began when Miami people traded for silk ribbons with the Americans. Then, they created intricate geometric patterns by layering the silk materials. Ribbonwork is a very deliberate and intricate process that takes a long time to learn.
“Over our long history as a people, we’ve always sought to decorate our clothes and our bodies in ways that we found pleasing. These visuals often incorporated repeating geometric patterns. Ribbonwork allowed Myaamia people to bring these patterns onto our clothing in powerful new ways that previous materials didn’t allow,” Ironstrack said.
Dr. Robert Wicks, director of the Miami University Art Museum said this is a significant exhibition. “We were able to … target works that were highly representative of the ribbonwork tradition,” Wicks said.
The exhibition will provide historical context and background to the contemporary revival of ribbonwork among the Miami people.
Ribbonwork was introduced with trade goods in the 19th century, where silk ribbons were highly valued on the frontier and were used for leggings, moccasin covers and other things like panel bags or wearing blankets, Wicks said.
The exhibition includes items from the Cranbrook Institute of Science, the Smithsonian (from the National Museum of the American Indian,) the Bata Shoe Museum and the Wabash County Historical Museum. Several of the items in the exhibition, including a pair of men’s leggings, a pair of moccasins with ribbonwork uppers were also featured on Antiques Roadshow in 2000.
“For this particular exhibition, the tribe wanted to do something different by focusing on ribbonwork, specifically, because there is a revitalization, not only of the Myaamia language, but also of cultural practice and artistic heritage. So this is just as much, or more really, for the tribe than it is for us,” Wicks said.
The exhibition will correspond to the 20th anniversary of the proposal to establish the Myaamia Project, and will run in conjunction with the 2020 Myaamiaki Conference at Miami University, slated for April. There will be special programming throughout the exhibition, including once-a-month docent led tours and workshops.
The Miami University Art Museum and Sculpture Park serves the university community as well as the general public.
“For our non-Myaamia audience, we hope they leave with an appreciation of the artistic brilliance of our ancestors and with an understanding of us as a living people, who continue to build off of this legacy in ways that are meaningful to us today. For our Myaamia audience, we really want our community to reflect on the first peak art form in the 1830s, and think about how we can collectively produce a new generation of brilliant ribbonworkers in the next decade,” Ironstrack said.
Other exhibitions on display this spring include “Circling ‘Round” in the Douglass Gallery and “Desire, Conflict & Exchange: Art of the 19th Century East Asia and the West” in the Farmer Gallery. The exhibitions will remain on display at the museum through June 13.
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