Epcot’s Native American art exhibit includes Hawaiian and Polynesian artifacts

The Hawaii and California display spotlights one of seven geographic regions of Native American art, both historical and modern, in the American Heritage Gallery at Epcot. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

During a recent visit to Epcot at Walt Disney World, we made sure to visit the new exhibition celebrating American Indian art. The American Heritage Gallery always does a great job with its exhibits, featuring multimedia and interactive displays plus plenty of artifacts and poignant narratives in the relatively small space. The previous exhibit on African-American history and culture was a must-see.

The Hawaii and California display spotlights one of seven geographic regions of Native American art, both historical and modern, in the American Heritage Gallery at Epcot. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Hawaii and California display spotlights one of seven geographic regions of Native American art, both historical and modern, in the American Heritage Gallery at Epcot. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The exhibit, “Creating Tradition: Innovation and Change in American Indian Art,” opened in July at the American Heritage Gallery inside the American Adventure Pavilion in World Showcase. It’s a collaboration between Disney Imagineering; the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.; and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

All of the artwork comes from the collections of those two museums. Included among the 89 pieces representing 40 different American Indian tribes is a prominent display dedicated to California and the islands of Hawaii. It includes models of a canoe and a sailboat based on those used by Polynesian seafarers who settled the Hawaiian islands more than 1,700 years ago. There’s also a huge piece of Polynesian tapa cloth, circa 1900s. Of interest to more modern tastes is the hand-printed He’e Aloha Shirt crafted by native Hawaiian Craig Neff of The Hawaiian Force. You can find his store in downtown Hilo, Hawaii.

Tapa cloth on display at "Creating Tradition: Innovation and Change in American Indian Art," a new exhibit at Epcot in Disney World. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Tapa cloth on display at “Creating Tradition: Innovation and Change in American Indian Art,” a new exhibit at Epcot in Disney World. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Native communities from six other geographic regions across the United States are included. Members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida performed at the exhibit’s opening.

The goal of the exhibition is to showcase authentic, historical artifacts alongside contemporary works of American Indian art. Guests learn how cultural traditions have been handed down through generations via interactive displays with narration and insights by some of the artists with works on display.

Objects from the 1800s are displayed alongside those created within the past year as a way to show the complete arc and look toward the future of American Indian art. Many of the contemporary pieces have never been on display, according to the Smithsonian magazine for the National Museum of the American Indian.

The Hawaii exhibit includes a sailboat model, circa 2000, made of native materials such as balsa wood, coconut fiber and canvas. It's on loan to Disney World from the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Hawaii exhibit includes a sailboat model, circa 2000, made of native materials such as balsa wood, coconut fiber and canvas. It’s on loan to Disney World from the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The three interactive video exhibits feature displays that resemble a campfire. When guests wave their hands in front of the flames, the displays turn into video presentations. The music heard throughout the gallery was recorded by Native musicians from the regions showcased in the exhibition.

Among the featured artists are fashion designer Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo), doll-maker Glenda McKay (Ingalik-Athabascan) and Juanita Growing Thunder (Assiniboine Sioux).

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