I think our family has added a new museum to our rotation of Smithsonian favorites. The Harvest Festival at the National American Indian Museum made quite an impression yesterday, with fun crafts and activities for the kids directly related to American Indian heritage and traditional performances that had us all entertained.
Don’t be fooled by the word “festival.” (I know I have a tendency to automatically conjure up images of large crowds and long lines upon hearing it.) The American Indian Museum is huge, and the Harvest Festival is spread out among multi-level space, so it’s easy to find everything, and there isn’t a wait to enjoy it.
Our first stop when we arrived was the Potomac Atrium just past the entrance, both to marvel at the dramatic architecture and check the schedule on the Festival directory. From there, we headed up to the third floor where kids’ craft making was taking place. Both Owen and Sasha colored pictures of the “Three Sisters” that would become buttons and learned about the importance of corn, beans, and squash in American Indian societies.
After that, Owen moved on to his favorite part of the day — making a dragonfly out of corn husks. He (with a little help from me) tore off strips of wet husks and learned how to roll, tie, and manipulate the pieces to looks like a dragonfly. I give this activity alone a giant thumbs up. There were about ten other children with parents, and all of us were quite absorbed in the craft. And the staff was very nice, helpful, and patient as we all fumbled with our art. When the dragonflies were assembled, the kids used markers to color them, and everyone ended up with some pretty cool-looking souvenirs.
Our timing was good — just as we completed the craft, a performance in the atrium was about to begin. We found space on the floor right next to the “stage” to watch the show, a special large-scale puppetry presentation based on the Popul Vuh, exploring the areas where the gods make people from corn, and the search for a food source for the newly created people. Okay, I admit I just pulled that description from the website, as I wasn’t completely sure what was happening aside from people being brought back to life. However, the production was captivating, with brilliant masks and costumes, large animal puppets, traditional Indian music, and dramatic scenes. Owen was spellbound the entire time, loving the masks, animals, and “battle” scenes. (Sasha, at that point, was napping in the stroller, so I’m not sure she would have been as engrossed.)
The performance, which lasted about 30 minutes, was adjacent to another activity center, so when it was over we moved over there. A woman presented basket weaving demos, and behind her kids ground corn using various traditional tools and learned how to make tamales (make that fake tamales; a ball of clay was wrapped in the corn husk).
And on that note, with colorful buttons, corn husk souvenirs, and new insight into the American Indian harvest, we left the museum. On the way out, we heard the traditional music that plays right outside. Owen listened for a minute and asked, “Can we get some music like that so I can dance to it at home?”
“Sure,” I told him. It looks like he’ll have yet another festival souvenir.
For more information about the festival, including times and location, check out this post from a few days ago.