Saturday, June 26, 2010

Art museum calls in tribal expert for work on tepee

One hundred twenty-five years ago, Standing Bear created the painted canvas tepee that has been the centerpiece of the Denver Art Museum's American Indian exhibit for the past two decades.

On Wednesday, under the direction of two tribal elders, the tepee was taken down for the renovation of the third floor of the north building.

"The renovation gives us a chance to rotate out artifacts," said museum spokeswoman Kristy Bassuener. "People can get to know new favorites."

Kiowa Nation elder John Emhoolah directed the disassembly, which required more than 10 people.

Emhoolah has disassembled thousands of tepees, Native Arts collection curator Nancy Blomberg said.

The museum needed his help because John Emhoolah, center, who is a member of the Kiowa nation, pulls a string out so it can be unwound from the top of a historic teepee as it is disassembled for cleaning.

"It is not a sacred object," she said. "We had elders come because there's a specific sequence in which you take it down."

Before the canvas cover could be rolled back, starting at each end along the angled wood poles, short wood pegs on the floor and the door latches had to be removed.

Then, together with the rolled-up canvas, the first of about 15 poles was taken off.

The structural heart of the tepee is a tripod of three poles tied together at the top. The other poles are interlaced outside of those with a separate rope. The rope was unwound by passing it around the tepee while people held onto the poles. They removed one pole at a time until they reached the final three, which were taken away still tied together.

The beige canvas is covered with detailed paintings of horses and tribal members. The tepee will be vacuumed and its surface will be cleaned. Next February, when the exhibit reopens, the tepee will return, Bassuener said.

About 50 of the current pieces will be brought out again, along with about 500 other objects from the museum's collection. There are around 18,000 artifacts in the Native Arts collection, Bassuener said.

"This is an opportunity to highlight the collection," Blomberg said. "And also to be able to show people the depth of the collection."

Source: The Denver Post
By: Sarah Horn

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