Courtesy Eiteljorg Museum
Published April 01, 2014
Seneca-Iroquois National Museum
Salamanca, New York
A drive across western New York on Interstate 86 can seem never-ending, so a stop at the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca can be both a refreshing break and an unexpected place to find contemporary Native American artwork. The museum first opened in 1977 to help preserve the history and culture of the Allegany Senecas. Many of them had been displaced by the construction of the Kinzua Dam, and the museum was an effort to remember and reflect on a way of life before they lost 10,000 acres along the Allegheny River.
“The Seneca elders were concerned that the knowledge [history] and the culture might not be taught in the homes as it once was, and they urged the building of the museum,” said Sue Grey, a museum spokeswoman.
The museum features temporary and permanent exhibits that show a partially reconstructed longhouse, a rebuilt log cabin and a historical perspective of the Allegany territory before the Kinzua Dam was built in 1965.
The museum also has a store that features local Seneca and Mohawk artists who use traditional techniques and art forms in modern ways. If you can’t visit the store, the online store makes almost all the same artwork available to ship anywhere in the world.
“Artists see things with a different eye, their mind’s eye,” said Grey. “Sometimes their work incorporates aspects of the culture that are important to them or an interpretation of what they see when they go to produce their work.
“We purchase artwork from Hodinöhsö:ní [people of the longhouse or the confederation of the five original Nations: Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk and later the Tuscarora] artists. When we do exhibits, we incorporate our talented artists’ artwork as much as possible.”