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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: “Creating Tradition” in the American Adventure Gallery

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

Is it ever correct these days to use the term “American Indian” instead of “Native American?” That was the question faced by Disney when it was preparing the newest exhibition to be showcased in the American Heritage Gallery in Epcot’s World Showcase, “Creating Tradition: Innovation and Change in American Indian Art.”

(C) Disney

One of Disney’s partners in putting together the exhibition was the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. That organization determined that the term “American Indian” was appropriate for this particular exhibit in order to be consistent with what was being displayed.

The other partner collaborating for “Creating Tradition: Innovation and Change in American Indian Art” was the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and they also agreed on the terminology. Actually both terms are acceptable in the academic world, although it is considered better to use the name of the specific tribal nation.

On July 27, 2018, the all-new exhibition opened featuring artifacts from American Indian communities, with a special dedication from the Florida Seminole Tribe. This exhibition highlights the importance of traditional Native culture in contemporary American Indian art.

“Creating Tradition” showcases authentic, historical Native artifacts alongside contemporary works of American Indian art, demonstrating examples of cultural traditions which have been handed down through the generations.

Why did the former exhibit, the “Kinsey Collection” go away? As is often the case, the items featured in the exhibit were on loan for a specific amount of time.

After a five-year agreement with the Kinsey Family, the American Heritage Gallery inside the American Adventure pavilion was updated with a new display, as always planned. In general all the galleries at Epcot rotate out their exhibits every three to five years.

The 89 pieces on display at Creating Tradition: Innovation and Change in American Indian Art represent 40 different American Indian tribes from seven geographic regions across the United States.

“At Epcot, guests are invited to celebrate the limitless possibilities of human imagination and innovation.” said Melissa Valiquette, vice president of Epcot. “By showcasing artwork from so many diverse American Indian tribes, ‘Creating Tradition’ is a wonderful way to share a vital part of the United States’ culture with all those who visit The American Adventure.”

Collection highlights include:

  • Fashion designer Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo) used the patterns on a jar made in the 1900s by an Acoma Pueblo potter as inspiration for his “Ancient Resonance” dress.
  • A Pokagon Potawatomi black ash hamper basket, made in the early 1900s, is paired with modern baskets, exemplifying how this technique is maintained over centuries. For example, on display is “Mother’s Womb,” a basket made by Cherish Nebeshanze Parrish (Potawatomi/Odawa) in 2011.
  • A Chilkat blanket from Alaska dating to the 1890s complements “Raven and the Box of Daylight,” a 2017 glass sculpture by Preston Singletary (Tlingit). This piece shows how Singletary experiments with designs from his Tlingit heritage in mediums beyond traditional Native materials.

Among the other featured artists with works on display are noted doll maker Glenda McKay (Ingalik-Athabascan), and Juanita Growing Thunder (Assiniboine Sioux) from the Growing Thunder family of Montana.

“Creating Tradition” also offers three interactive video exhibits where contemporary American Indian artists share perspectives on their work and culture. When guests wave their hands in front of a display resembling a campfire, the “flames” transform into a video presentation. Music playing in the gallery, performed by Native musicians, supports the objects and regions represented throughout the exhibition.

“I am delighted to recognize this association with Disney as their leadership shares the vision and creativity of contemporary American Indian artists with international visitors,” said Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the National Museum of the American Indian. “We hope Epcot visitors will see the American experience begins with the American Indians who have always been here.”

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.


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