August 2011

Dear NAAM Friends,

My name is Anne Melton and I am a Curatorial Intern at the Northwest African American Museum; my internship was funded through NAAM's grant from the national Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). As a current student in the University of Washington's Museology Graduate Program, my time at NAAM has been filled with opportunities to apply what I've been learning in the classroom. When I entered the program, I knew I wanted to work at a museum that really listens to its community and creates relevant experiences, and NAAM has been a perfect fit!

One of the highlights of my time at NAAM is having the opportunity to work on the upcoming exhibit IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas opening this month. IndiVisible is a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian which examines the relationship and interconnection of African Americans and Native Americans, as well as addressing the human desire for being and belonging.

As part of my internship, I have helped conceptualize and develop the local connection to this national traveling exhibition as well as the interactive design. The local component of this exhibit focuses on the story of Julia Jacob, an African American woman by birth who was adopted by Chief Jacob Wahalchu and his wife, Mary Weisidul of the Suquamish Tribe in the early 1870s. Julia was raised on the Kitsap Peninsula in the traditions of the Suquamish. This remarkable woman is remembered for her caring spirit, soaring soprano voice, talent for traditional basket weaving, and preserving Lushootseed, the native language of the Suquamish and other Coast Salish tribes.

Doing research for the exhibit has involved traveling to the Kitsap Peninsula to meet with Julia's descendants and hear their stories and memories. She was a cornerstone of her family who passed down traditions of the Suquamish at a time when the Tribe's customs were under attack by the United States Government in an attempt to assimilate Native Americans into white culture. Today, the Suquamish are experiencing a cultural resurgence that Julia's granddaughter Marilyn Wandrey believes, "gives them back the tools that will lift them up in their spirit as to who they are and where they came from, the Suquamish people, descendants of a strong and proud people with good hearts and minds."

Julia's Grandaughter-Marilyn Wandrey in traditional regalia.
Image courtesy of Marilyn Wandrey

Because of Julia's talent for basket weaving and the legacy she left for her family, the local connection to IndiVisible is entitled "Woven Lives: the Julia Jacob Story," which reflects Julia's influence and the efforts of her family members to carry on the Suquamish traditions. In addition to telling her story, also on display will be three baskets from the family spanning three generations: Mary Weisidul, Julia herself, and Julia's great-grandson, Ed Carriere.

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet Julia's family members and to work with NAAM's curatorial staff to turn Julia's story into an exhibit that can be shared with others. IndiVisible will be on view from August 20th until October 16th, with a public opening on Sunday September 4 so be sure to come by! And please, if you aren't already a member of NAAM, consider joining or renewing today – your support ensures that NAAM will continue to offer amazing and inspiring exhibitions like IndiVisible.

Anne Melton
NAAM Curatorial Intern