The Cultural Resources Center (CRC) is one of three
facilities that house the vast collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum
of the American Indian. Opened in 1999, the CRC, located just outside of Washington,
DC in Suitland, Maryland, provides state-of-the-art resources and facilities
for the proper conservation, protection, and study of the museum’s collections.
I got the opportunity to take a tour of the CRC with the Smithsonian Knitting
Circle class, and get a behind the scenes look at some amazing Native American knitted
artifacts that are not always on display to the public.
other conservation centers, the CRC is built open, tall, and well-lit, clearly
meant for visitors. It also organizes
its objects by tribe, rather than by material like other museums, because
visitors typically wish to view a specific tribe. The vast facility’s three
levels hold South American, North American, and archeological objects.
Our guide, Assistant Collections Manager Tori Cranner, brought out an exclusive assortment of knitted artifacts including a Cowichan sweater made from entirely natural wool and colors. To achieve the multicolor effect, the knitter used wools from black, white, brown and grey sheep. The knitter created the sweater using circular or “in the round” knitting, a technique that creates a seamless tube, and then cut it down the middle and hand stitched a zipper. The creator of this sweater used a circular knitting shortcut called “steeking,” which originates in Scandinavia.
Another interesting artifact was a pair of ceremonial men’s leggings. Because of the extremely personal nature of the garments and the traditional role of men in ceremonial practice, the leggings were knitted by men only. These specimens, collected in the 1920s, originate in the arid Southwest San Juan region, explaining their light and delicate property.
Who knew knitting could reveal so much about an individual or an artifact’s history. Historians can tell exactly where a person lived, and from whom they learned to knit, based simply on the technique they used.