University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 1/1995
Conservator places Native American artifacts in their cultural context

     Marian Kaminitz, Delaware '84M, spends a good bit of her
time these days fine-tuning details for a move that won't take
place until after the turn of the century. But then, who can
blame her? She's preparing almost 1 million items for shipment
from New York City to Washington, D.C.
     Luckily, the Delaware graduate won't be packing-and isn't
planning-the move alone. Kaminitz, who received a master's degree
in art conservation from Delaware, heads the eight-person
conservation department for the National Museum of the American
Indian, part of the Smithsonian Institution.
     The museum, with three branches in New York City, is
scheduled to move in 2001 to a new home next to the Smithsonian's
Air and Space Museum, where it will sit on the Mall at the foot
of the nation's Capitol.
     The National Museum of the American Indian boasts one of the
world's finest collections of Native American artifacts. One-
third of the museum's staff is Native American.
     "We work in collaboration and cooperation with Native
American peoples," Kaminitz says. "This museum is setting forth
objects and cultures from the eyes of Native Americans."
     The goal is for the public to understand that these cultures
still thrive, she explains, and "we want to allow visitors to see
those cultures from the native viewpoint rather than as an
interpretation made by anthropologists, scientists and scholars."
     Kaminitz has bachelor's degrees in art history and home
economics from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor of fine
arts degree and a certificate in gallery management from the
California College of Arts and Crafts. She says she chose a
career in conservation because she enjoys working with artifacts
and teaching people about the preservation of materials.
     Kaminitz selected Delaware's three-year conservation program
because of its emphasis on textile materials and objects; its
association with the Henry Francis duPont Winterthur Museum; and
its proximity to Washington and New York.
     After a one-year fellowship at the Pacific Regional
Conservation Center in Hawaii, Kaminitz took a job as the
assistant objects conservator in the anthropology department at
the American Museum of Natural History. She joined the National
Museum of the American Indian six years later.
     During her career, Kaminitz traveled to Ankara, Turkey,
serving as a conservator on a project that dealt with the
conservation, restoration, recording and rehousing of furniture
found in a Phrygian tomb. For two summers in the mid '80s, she
also worked as an on-site conservator, concentrating on the
treatment and registration of finds from the excavation of two
areas at an archaeological Roman site in Episkopi, Cyprus.
     She has been in her current job since 1991 and was attracted
to the museum because its philosophy mirrors her own belief that
people within a culture should be the ones who represent it.
     A Mamaroneck, N.Y., resident, Kaminitz received a 1995 UD
Presidential Citation for Outstanding Achievement for her efforts
to bring a new awareness of cultural context to the field of
     Authenticity comes, in part, from knowing what information
to offer, she says. "I've learned to respect that everything is
not meant to be shared. Knowledge is not wholesale information."
     Kaminitz' belief that people must "allow others to take
responsibility for their own things" influences her personal
life, too. She is coordinator of the New York chapter of the
Foundation of I Inc., a  non-profit educational organization that
teaches a spiritual, stress-release process called Hooponopono.
The Hawaiian name of the process means to create freedom, to
rectify an error, Kaminitz says.
     "It's all about taking responsibility for yourself through a
process of repentance, forgiveness and transmutation. It's about
unifying one's inner family with the divine creator to allow
stressful things to be released.
     "It all fits together for me-the sensibility of native
people to their culture is lined up with how I feel in general.
Conservation is part of that, of being able to know where
preservation is important," she says. "It is important for people
to understand that sometimes things should be repatriated back to
a tribe and used by the tribe. It's also about knowing that you
have to let go of some materials."
     The number of visitors to the museum in New York City has
increased substantially since November, when the main exhibit was
moved to the Old Custom House in downtown Manhattan.
     Kaminitz says she is proud of the museum's exhibits as well
as its internship program that trains Native Americans in
conservation. One of the goals of the museum is to help break the
stereotypes people hold about Native Americans.
     "There's a misunderstanding that all Native Americans come
from the plains and that they all look like Tonto," Kaminitz
says. "There are too many stereotypes. That is changing, but
there's more that can be done."
                                 -Marylee Sauder, Delaware '83