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Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki to wheel in Smithsonian skateboard exhibit

BIG CYPRESS — Quenton Cypress thought his job at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum was cool, but when the work program trainee was tapped for consultation about a national traveling exhibit, he was convinced.

“The show is about skateboarding in Indian Country, so I’m stoked. I can honestly say it’s awesome,” said Cypress, an avid skateboarder who hits the Big Cypress skate park nearly every night.

Planned for exhibit Sept. 13 through Nov. 9 in the Museum’s main room, the “Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America” show from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) can’t come soon enough.

Opened in 2009, the exhibit of 73 rare objects and images of Native American skateboarding has been viewed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York and Washington and about 20 other museums nationwide.

The show will arrive at the Big Cypress Reservation venue from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Connecticut.

According to the SITES web page, the exhibit highlights the history of skateboarding as a popular reservation sport since rooted in West Coast Native American and Native Hawaiian surfing communities of the 1960s.

On view will be a 1973 video featuring Zephyr Competition Team members Ricky and Jimmy Tavarez, of the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe in California. Also included will be will be 20 skateboard decks, including one from 1969 that depicts traditional Native artwork and other skate-related works from Native American artists Dustinn Craig, Bunky Echo-Hawk, Traci Rabbit and Joe Yazzie.

Rebecca Fell, the Museum’s curator of exhibits, said the show will be staged in the west gallery’s 1,000-square-foot space. A graffiti art wall by Seminole member Wilson Bowers will backdrop the entrance. On the Mosaic Gallery, five skateboard decks will boast Native skater themes.

Fell said Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum was under different management about five years ago when the decision was made to host the show. Last year, new staff members wondered if the show would still be meaningful.

“It was serendipity to have two skateboarders here, Quenton and even Paul (Backhouse, Museum director and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer), to tell us how deeply relevant the exhibit really is,” Fell said. “It’s a great sport that flourishes on reservations. All you need is a board and some obstacle to jump.”

A public reception for the show will be held Sept. 20 from 1-3 p.m. Skater friendly foods like pizza bagels and slushies will be served, and kids who register before the event will be invited to create their own decks, Fell said.

More skateboard fun will be offered at the Museum’s American Indian Arts Celebration Nov. 7-8 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Skaters will be able to “skate jam” on a mobile halfpipe ramp. Skate contests will cap each day.

Cypress said the skateboard activities will enhance the exhibit. Together, they could prove to people of all ages that skateboarders are athletes and artists rolled into one, he said.

For the former Ahfachkee School student-athlete who competes regularly in national Indian Country golf tournaments, skateboarding is a competitive sport that requires agility, strength coordination and discipline.

Board art can spin into careers in fine art, commercial graphics, advertising or other business ventures, Cypress said.

“Or skateboarding can be just a good way to work out and relieve stress,” he said.

Bowers’ artwork can be seen at the skate park where he repaints graffiti art walls near pipes, ramps and rails every few months.

Fell said the show has a history of good reviews.

“There is a largely positive response from reservation culture. Skateboarding keeps kids active, athletic and in a positive attitude,” she said.