When the Iroquois Indian Museum opens for another season on Tuesday, visitors will see a new exhibit, “Standing in Two Worlds: Iroquois in 2014,” featuring 40 paintings, photographs, sculpture and more by artists representing the Six Nations of the Iroquois.
The Schoharie County museum also has a new director, Maria Vann, who took charge on Jan. 1, and succeeds Erynne Ansel-McCabe, who had that job for 11 years.
Vann grew up in Suffolk County and holds a master’s degree from the Cooperstown graduate program in museum studies that’s part of the SUNY College at Oneonta.
Before she came to the Iroquois Museum, Vann worked as education programs manager at the New York State Historical Association and the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown.
Vann and her husband, John, live in the Otsego County village of Fly Creek, and have three children, ages 18, 20 and 25.
Q: How many artists are in the new exhibit?
A: We’ve had a fabulous response from Iroquois artists from throughout the area, so all the reservations, even into Canada, submitted art. Over 30 artists are going to be presented and focusing on contemporary concerns: gaming, treaty rights, sports mascots.
‘Standing in Two Worlds: Iroquois in 2014’
WHAT: Exhibit of contemporary Iroquois artwork
WHERE: Iroquois Indian Museum, 324 Caverns Road, Howes Cave
WHEN: Museum and exhibit opens Tuesday. April hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 12 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Closed on Easter, April 20.
HOW MUCH: $8; $6.50 for seniors and teens; $5 up to age 12; free for kids under 5.
MORE INFO: 296-8949, www.iroquoismuseum.org
Q: Are there related events?
A: We’re going to have a Meet the Artist Day on May 3 from 1 to 3. Many of the artists are coming and they will be able to share their stories, share their art, share their perspective. On May 18, in celebration of International Museum Day, we will have a young Onondaga artist in the gallery actually creating art for the exhibit.
Q: Will you be taking the museum in a different direction?
A: Part of my role is looking at what has been here, what their traditions have been, and their history, and then saying ‘How can we expand upon this? How can we move ahead?’ Many museums across this country are looking at ‘How do we get the public in here? How do we convey messages that need to get out to the public?’ That’s what we’re looking at.
Q: Will visitors notice any changes?
A: We’re reinvigorating our museum shop, with new artwork from folks from the Six Nations. This spring we’re going to be building an amphitheater roof cover, a permanent structure, so we can do programs throughout more seasons and weather.
Q: And behind the scenes?
A: We are working on a new website. And we’ve recently joined the North American Reciprocal Museum Association. If anyone becomes a member of our museum at the $100 level, they will have the opportunity to be treated as members at over 600 museums across North America.
Q: New programs?
A: We joined the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. They are a coalition of museums around the world that bring memory to action. Programs and exhibits talk about historical things and then bring it into the present day. For instance, the Tenement Museum in New York City, the Holocaust [Memorial] Museum in Washington, D.C., are part of the coalition. They do programming about modern-day issues. So they [The Holocaust Museum] have a whole exhibit on Darfur because the same kind of thing is happening today. They try to open up dialogue about issues.
Q: What kind of issues would this museum look at?
A: The Iroquois people have a very long history and there are issues that we can bring forth in our exhibitions or our programs, whether it’s treaty rights or conditions on reservations. Women are being sold into the slave trade and people aren’t aware of it. The slave trade is an international problem and it’s really horrible. Diabetes is running rampant on native reservations. The issues that face the Iroquois and other native cultures are the issues we all face and have concerns over.
Q: Why is this museum important?
A: This museum has a long history of presenting Native American art from the Six Nations, we have that whole department of archaeology that continues to research and do digs. We look at the Iroquois people past and present. This place really is a destination for a better understanding of not only Native American history and culture but of American history and culture. We can’t separate that. We have a joint past.
Q: Were you familiar with museum before you took this job?
A: Oh yeah. I moved up from Long Island almost 20 years ago and I’d come by here with my kids when they were younger. And then I worked with folks from the Six Nations when I worked up at the Fenimore Art Museum and the New York State Historical Association. We had actually done a joint project with the Iroquois Indian Museum. But I wasn’t aware of the amazing depth of the collection here. I’m completely and utterly blown away by what they have here.
Q: Do you have any Native American ancestry?
A: No, not that I know of.
Q: How did you get interested in museum work?
A: I’ve always loved history. I’ve always been a museum goer. My first recollection of going to a museum when I was a young person was the Museum of the American Indian in Manhattan. My parents brought us to all sorts of historic places growing up. Half the time we came up to upstate New York. My parents loved Teddy Roosevelt, so we followed his trail through the Adirondacks.
Q: You ran a school of dance in Suffolk County?
A: When I was about 23, I opened up a dance studio. I taught all different forms — tap dance, ballet — for 450 students. Dancing and movement is a really important part of my life. I enjoy the expressions that I see in other cultures, how they express themselves through dance, the different meanings behind it. Being here with the Iroquois people as they are doing their social dancing is a fun thing and something that I look forward to.
Q: Are you going to participate?
A: Oh yes, I’ve done it before. I enjoy it. I do it for fun. I’ll jump in any time someone is dancing.