Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Kwahadi Museum of the American Indian

The Good Girls went to Texas to see the rodeo, but we took time out to visit the Kwahadi Museum of the American Indian one day. The exterior building does not begin to tell the story of what’s inside. 

Exterior of Kwahadi Museum in Amarillo, Texas
Photo @ Debi Lander

We were met by Charles Ritchie, the Director, who is just the right man for the job. He’s both compassionate and passionate about the center. You notice the adobe architecture building from along I-40. Inside it contains a museum plus an entry room with lots of paintings, a Great Room for performances and a fabulous gift shop. We found it all quite a splendid surprise.

Charles, Ritchie, Kwahadi Museum Director
Photo @Debi Lander

The center or Kiva is the home of the world famous Kwahadi Dancers as well as an amazing collection of Native American art and artifacts. The Kwahadi Dancers began in 1944, but this, their own building, did not open until 2004.

The museum presents a varied collection of arts, books, costumes, artifacts, and paintings. You can see works by the late author and artist, Thomas E. Mails, covering 14 native cultures. Nature enthusiasts will love the detailed carvings of the Birds of the High Plains by Bob Jones.

Kachina Dolls in the Gift Shop

 I enjoyed the many kachina dolls and handmade crafts and costumes by tribe members. Judy found a horse dance stick, probably Lakota, that had been danced with in the gift shop to add to her collection.

Handmade Crafts
Judy's horse dance stick
We were surprised to learn that the dancers are not Native Americans. It began as a World War II era Boy Scout project. These are everyday normal Amarillo school students, male and female (plus the occasional tag-along little brother or sister) who’ve been encouraged and inspired to join and learn. They perform at the museum throughout the year, and travel during the summer and special occasions. They have danced in 48 states and overseas too.

Kwahadi Dancers perform in the Museum Kiva Room
Photo courtesy of Amarillo CVB

The Texas Commission for the Arts awarded the Kwahadis the Youth Award for Excellence. From a list of prestigious invitations, they were chosen to represent the U.S. at the International Festival of the Arts in Amman, Jordan and were selected by the International Olympic Committee to represent North America in the opening ceremonies of the Xtreme Games in South Korea.

Their performances are based on Comanche dances but are interpreted by the Kwahadi’s. That name was given to the young dancers by the Elders of the Comanche Nation who were also known as Kwahadis.

The dances journey into the folk art of the Southwest, demonstrate prayers and thankfulness for rain, the hunt, and harvest. Some honor our flag and soldiers. They tell stories and encourage folks to believe that persistence can make dreams come true. 

Kwahadi Dancers in costume
Photo courtesy of Amarillo CVB

Through learning and performing, the students experience the rewards of good choices, high goals and commitment.  Ritchie said that many of the past members went on to college, something that seemed beyond reach before their involvement with the group. 

We were very disappointed that we couldn’t watch a performance. If you are ever in the area, or if the Kwadahi Dancers come to your town, by all means, go see them.  And, if you are interested in Native American art, stop by the museum. 

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