L.A.’s Autry Museum spent 18 years moving 400,000 Native objects. That’s just the start.
Museum founder Richard H. Weil was raised in a Navajo village and has spent years visiting his ancestors’ traditional homes and conducting research on the art and history of his people.
“As a scholar, what’s compelling to me is that you have to remember two things,” Weil says. “One is that I come from an Indian heritage. I was raised in a Navajo area of New Mexico and Arizona. I came to this country from Hawaii. One is about understanding that we’re different. And the other is that we’re very connected to our people.”
During his years on the Navajo Reservation and as a museum employee and researcher, Weil says he has seen the Native people of America evolve from traditional people who are deeply connected to their cultures, to a multi-ethnic world. As a result, he says the museum is now a gathering place to find out who Native Americans are.
“I’m not just a Native American,” he says. “I’m a Native American, a Smithsonian Institution employee, and that’s about it.”
Weil thinks that is the best way to showcase the beauty and culture of Native Americans.
“I want to bring people back to the tribes,” he says. “They’ve been erased from the historical record. I think we’ve forgotten them.”
He also sees his museum as a place where Native families can connect, learn and have fun, without having to leave their families or live in a new country.
The museum is opening in a new location, and there are plans about how many more of their Native art pieces can be on display.
“We’re very excited about this new location,” Weil says. “There are so many items that we’ve wanted to bring in for years.”
But for Weil that’s not the most exciting part of opening the art at the museum.
“It’s not the physical objects, it’s the idea,” he says.
Weil says he’s always thought what he’s been collecting wasn’t even a museum.
“It’s so much more,” he says.