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Folklife in the Museum: A Nation of Nations

Collection Creator:
Smithsonian Institution. Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage  Search this
Archival materials
A Nation of Nations was the largest single exhibition ever mounted in the National Museum of History and Technology. It took a mighty exhibit to express a mighty theme. A Nation of Nations, opened in 1976 as part of the Smithsonian's Bicentennial celebrations, showed how various people the world over came to America, what they brought with them, how experiences in the new land shaped their traditional material culture, and how objects and machines that they made here helped them cope with their new environment and express their values.

The objects, accompanying signs, and text panels of the exhibition conveyed information and evoked for visitors recollections of their personal experiences in America. Another effect, almost a cultural drama, could be achieved when people participated in a "living" exhibit combining artifacts and demonstrations. In this way folklife - lore and behavior - could be presented side by side with physical objects to enrich the exhibit. During the Folklife Festival, participants gave demonstrations and narrations in several areas of A Nation of Nations to create this kind of living, personalized exhibit. Presentations were co-organized by the Folklife Program and curators of A Nation of Nations; the Hispanic crafts component was also co-organized by the Department of Cultural History.

Hispanic crafts (saddle making, furniture crafting, straw inlay) The featured artisans were located near displays of historical artifacts to which they related. The relationship between historical artifacts and contemporary crafts was often obvious on the visual level: in size, color, material, and style. Other relationships, such as manufacture and usage, needed some explanation. And so artisans were selected to demonstrate their traditional crafts.

Dunham School lore program The meticulously replicated classroom from Cleveland, Ohio, was brought to life again by former pupils and teachers who regaled visitors with anecdotes of school activities - the games and tricks as well as serious academic achievements. To complement the Dunham School folk and provide an intergenerational exchange of public-school experiences, a group of contemporary Washington, D.C., schoolchildren also participated in the exhibit.

Ellis Island/Immigrant Lore Adjacent to a wooden bench from Ellis Island on which newly-arrived immigrants would await their admission to the U.S., workshops on oral history took place, with immigrants and retired immigration inspectors discussing life in the Old Country, the journey to America, experiences at Ellis Island, and the immigrants' life in America.

Pencil making Narratives and explanations of a veteran of the pencil-making industry revealed his esoteric work conditions while supplying a cultural context for the pencil-making machine on exhibit, humanizing it in the process.

Baseball bat turning To enliven the exhibition's focus on American sports, a worker from Hillerich and Bradsby deftly hand-turned a "blank" to fashion the Johnny Bench personal model Louisville Slugger®, lending immediacy and actuality to the physical memorabilia.

Ethnic foodways Beneath flamboyant neon restaurant signs, visitors could watch continuous demonstrations of bread, pastry, and pasta making.
Hispanic Crafts

Luis Eligio Tapia, furniture maker, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Star Rodrigues Tapia, straw inlay worker, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Oscar Carvajal, Jr., 1906-1985, saddle maker, San Antonio, Texas

Dunham School Lore Program

Maynard Baker, student, Cleveland, Ohio

Katherine Geraci, 1904-1984, teacher, University Heights, Ohio

Carl J. Klagge, 1899-1991, student, Cleveland, Ohio

Frances Baker Montgomery, 1918-1996, student and school crossing guard, Cleveland, Ohio

Jean Poplyk, 1943-, student, Willoughby, Ohio

Fred Ritz, student, Sun City, Arizona

Ellis Island, Immigrant Lore

Jacob Auerbach, 1903-1995, immigrant and inspector, Long Beach, New York

Joseph Levine, 1906-1981, immigrant, Brooklyn, New York

Joseph Muchnick, 1953-, immigrant, Silver Spring, Maryland

Lucy Nigro, 1894-1991, immigrant, Brooklyn, New York

Pencil Making

David Price, pencil maker, Moorestown, New Jersey

Nation of Nations, Folklife Program

Baseball Bat Turning

Bennett Curry, Hillerich and Bradsby Co., Louisville, Kentucky

Robbie Curry, Hillerich and Bradsby Co., Louisville, Kentucky

Jess Haney, senior handturner, Hillerich and Bradsby Co., Louisville, Kentucky

Ethnic Foodways

Elli Andonyadis, Greek cook, Washington, D.C.

Carmela Chiappinelli, Italian cook, Washington, D.C.

Fausto Chiappinelli, 1936-2000, Italian cook, Vienna, Virginia

Roberta Sabban, Jewish cook, Bethesda, Maryland
Collection Restrictions:
Access by appointment only. Where a listening copy or viewing copy has been created, this is indicated in the respective inventory; additional materials may be accessible with sufficient advance notice and, in some cases, payment of a processing fee. Older papers are housed at a remote location and may require a minimum of three weeks' advance notice and payment of a retrieval fee. Certain formats such as multi-track audio recordings and EIAJ-1 videoreels (1/2 inch) may not be accessible. Contact the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections at 202-633-7322 or for additional information.
Collection Rights:
Copyright and other restrictions may apply. Generally, materials created during a Festival are covered by a release signed by each participant permitting their use for personal and educational purposes; materials created as part of the fieldwork leading to a Festival may be more restricted. We permit and encourage such personal and educational use of those materials provided digitally here, without special permissions. Use of any materials for publication, commercial use, or distribution requires a license from the Archives. Licensing fees may apply in addition to any processing fees.
Collection Citation:
Smithsonian Folklife Festival records: 1977 Festival of American Folklife, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
CFCH.SFF.1977, Series 5
See more items in:
Smithsonian Folklife Festival records: 1977 Festival of American Folklife
Archival Repository:
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

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