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State Museum to present ‘Speaking with the Ancestors’

Staff Reports • Updated Apr 21, 2016 at 12:30 PM

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee State Museum will hold a special presentation, “Speaking with the Ancestors,” and a tour of the exhibition, Ancestors: Ancient Native American Sculptures of Tennessee, on May 1 at 2 p.m. with Kevin E. Smith, a Middle Tennessee State University professor of anthropology, and some really old Wilson County natives.

There is no admission charge to either the event or the exhibition.

Smith will offer an analysis of this groundbreaking exhibit and explore its extraordinary significance. He will address what was discovered as a result of the research conducted during the exhibition. He will also speak about what new and ongoing research questions were raised as a result of the exhibit.

Smith played a seminal role in bringing these rare statues back to Tennessee for a one-time-only exhibit, according to Lois Riggins-Ezzell, the museum’s executive director.

“Specifically, this is the first time these pieces have all been exhibited together. The exhibit features a male sculpture considered to be among the greatest pieces of ancestral Native American art found in the United States,” she said.

The exhibit showcases a pre-Columbian stone statuary tradition that was found primarily between the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers and some in Wilson County. The statues were often found in ancestral pairs, each containing a male and a female. All have long been separated since their discovery, and most have been taken far outside the state. The exhibit, which also reunites some of the pairs, includes many which have never been shown.

The 28 stone sculptures in the exhibition represent the largest group of Tennessee-Cumberland-style statuary, including 14 from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., two from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, two from the McClung Museum, five from the State Museum’s collection and five that are held in private collections.

Smith is a noted anthropologist who has pioneered archaeological research in Middle Tennessee. His book, “Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region,” was cited as the definitive volume about the Mississippian statuary tradition.

Following his presentation, Smith will be on hand for a gallery tour and to sign copies of his book.

In 1937, the Tennessee General Assembly created a state museum to care for World War I artifacts and other collections from the state and other groups. The museum was located in the lower level of the War Memorial Building until it was moved into the new James K. Polk Cultural Center in 1981. The Tennessee State Museum currently occupies three floors, covering about 120,000 square feet with more than 60,000 square feet devoted to exhibits. The museum’s Civil War holdings of uniforms, battle flags and weapons are among the finest in the nation. For more information, visit tnmuseum.org.

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