By Julie Shapiro
FINANCIAL DISTRICT — A new downtown exhibit brings together 700 pieces of Native American art spanning thousands of miles and thousands of years.
The Infinity of Nations exhibit, opening Saturday at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, showcases the diversity of the many tribes and cultures that called America home long before Europeans arrived.
"Calling it ‘Infinity of Nations’ debunks the idea that this wilderness of America was here for the taking," said John Haworth, a director at the museum. "Prior to European contact, there were very sophisticated, full societies."
Objects range from 2,000-year-old duck decoys used by a tribe in Nevada to a ceremonial pipe-tomahawk presented to Chief Tecumseh by a British commander during the War of 1812. The exhibit also includes stone statues from Mexico, blankets from Peru and a bow and arrow from Argentina.
Most of the objects in the exhibit come from the collection of George Gustav Heye, who founded an earlier version of the museum in 1916. After undergoing years of study and preservation in Maryland, the artifacts recently returned to New York to form the modern museum’s first permanent collection.
A ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday morning drew local politicians and community leaders to the museum’s grand space in the US Custom House, a site that was once an Algonquin trading post and was later central to America’s growth.
"It’s only fitting that we have this kind of exhibit right here where you could say it all began," City Comptroller John Liu said.
To help visitors understand what they are seeing, the museum is also launching a free iPhone app that describes 60 of the objects on display. Visitors can borrow devices to use the app while walking through the museum.
Haworth hopes people who visit Infinity of Nations will see more than just the artwork itself.
"You get to look at incredible objects," he said, "but you also learn about the people who made them."
The National Museum of the American Indian at One Bowling Green is free and open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays.