Nelson-Atkins celebration showcases American Indian culture

The sounds of beating drums echoing through the halls of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on Sunday afternoon captured the attention of the McCafferty family of Wichita.

Mike and Emalee McCafferty along with their daughter Maureen had been looking at the Chinese art collection.

But when the Native American drum music and singing by the Meskwaki Nation started, they were lured to Kirkwood Hall in the museum, where an American Indian Culture Celebration was under way.

“We actually came up to Kansas City to buy my daughter a double bass and we decided we had to come over to the Nelson,” Mike McCafferty said. “We heard the drums and decided we needed to check everything out. This is a fortunate bonus.”

Seeing students from the Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence perform traditional Native American Dances had a large impact on him and his family.

“Wow,” he said. “This is just incredible.”

Emalee McCafferty, who said she had seen notice of the celebration on the museum’s website, had feared it would be too crowded.

But she couldn’t stay away. It sounded too exciting.

“You could just feel it upstairs,” she said.

And when Emalee and Maureen saw the dancers, they both were overcome by emotion and started crying.

“I was just overwhelmed by the colors and the sound,” said a teary-eyed Emalee McCafferty. “I had never seen anything like it before.”

Gaylord Torrence, the Merrill Senior Curator of American Indian Art at The Nelson-Atkins, said he understood why they were drowned in emotion.

“I think the drums, which is often equated with the heartbeat, is something that is ancient in this country and it takes us to the very beginning of things here,” he said.

“In some ways it’s fundamentally religious music and I think it touches many people very deeply,” he added.

The Nelson-Atkins along with the Kansas City Indian Center presented the American Indian Cultural Celebration.

This was one of the several cultural events the museum held.

In addition to the drumming, dancing and singing there was a beadwork demonstration with Nicole Bennett from Haskell Indian Nations University and hoop dancing by Lumhe Micco Sampson.

“I think the most important reason to have this is to communicate to our audience that American Indian culture is alive and thriving,” he said. “The arts, the music, the dance and the traditions are very much alive.”

Rebecca Widner of Waverly, Mo., took her 5-year-old daughter Celia to the celebration because they have relatives who are American Indians.

The music was a little loud for Celia, but she liked it, her mother said.

“She (Celia) is very intrigued by Indian culture,” Widner said. “When we found out this was taking place, we didn’t want to miss it.”