This Century-Old Museum of Natural History Exhibit Just Got a Major Revamp

The new space celebrates the Indigenous communities from the Pacific Northwest Coast.

Photo courtesy of D.Finnin/AMNH

The oldest hall at the American Museum of Natural History just started welcoming guests again.

The newly reimagined space celebrates the arts and cultures of the Indigenous communities from the Pacific Northwest Coast, and guides visitors through their history throughout the centuries.

To create the new space, Peter Whiteley, curator of American Ethnology at the Museum, and Co-Curator Ḥaa'yuups, Nuu-chah-nulth scholar and cultural historian, collaborated with consulting curators from the Coast Salish, Gitxsan, Haida, Haíłzaqv, Kwakwaka'wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, Nuxalk, Tlingit, and Tsimshian communities.

New media and methods of interpretations were added to better convey the history of Pacific Northwest Coast Nations, including a rotating gallery presenting the work of current artists.

"The Museum's historic first gallery and first cultural Hall, the Northwest Coast Hall has been fully reimagined, painstakingly conserved, and gloriously reinvigorated," Ellen V. Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History, said in an official statement. "[The result is] a presentation that illuminates the Northwest Coast cultures as vibrant, living communities, while showcasing more than 1,000 glorious works of art, spirituality, and ingenuity."

Upon entering the 10,200-square-foot hall, guests can expect to encounter a space divided into many different alcoves, which offer sections dedicated to the Coast Salish, Haida, Haíłzaqv, Kwakwaka'wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, Nuxalk, and Tlingit communities. One of the alcoves, instead, is focused on the Gitxsan, Nisga'a, and Tsimshian Nations.

At the entrance of the gallery, an introductory theater shows a short video by Tahltan/Gitxsan filmmaker Michael Bourquin, which introduces visitors to the history, culture, and current concerns of the Native peoples of the Northwest Coast. On the right side of the entrance, the gallery features an exhibit titled "Our Voices," which serves as a detailed explanation about the past, present, and future history of the communities living on the Northwest Coast. This also touches on key issues affecting the present, such as environmental conservation and racism.

Throughout the hall, visitors will be able to marvel at over 1,000 artifacts and cultural treasures displayed across 50 cases. Among them are the Great Canoe, a 63-foot-long Northwest Coast dugout canoe (the largest in existence) hanging from the ceiling, which is on display at the Hall for the first time in more than 70 years. New artworks created for the Hall will also be showcased, including a recreation of a beaver-shaped Tlingit canoe prow and a 6-foot red cedar pole. The Hall will also be home to over 60 monumental carvings and to an exhibit showcasing the work of current Native artists.

"I want my great-grandchildren to come here. I want them to be proud of where they're from, proud of who they are, proud of the history of their family and the achievements of our people, the intelligence of people, the knowledge of people, the science of people in my community," Co-Curator Ḥaa'yuups said in an official statement. "So I want the Hall to reflect that reality, that there's a different way to think about the world around you."

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Serena Tara is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.