Visual Description | Many Voices, One Nation

Exhibit Overview

[Main Label] The people of North America came from many cultures and spoke different languages long before the founding of the United States, even before European contact. In creating the new nation, early leaders envisioned a country that promised opportunity and freedom—but only for some. As the population grew, the people who lived in the United States found ways to negotiate, or work out, what it meant to be American. That negotiation continues. This exhibition explores how the many voices of people in America have shaped our nation. 

Many Voices, One Nation is a large exhibition space of approximately 5,895 square feet. The entrance of the exhibition features the title in bright orange letters. Upon entering, visitors will encounter a wall of video screens showing a montage of people’s faces and accompanied by audio of different people asking the question, “How do we become us?” From here, visitors should turn left and move clockwise to view the exhibit in chronological order. The exhibit is divided into five sections: “Unsettling the Continent, 1492-1776”; “Peopling the Expanding Nation, 1776-1900”; “Creating Community: Chicago and Los Angeles, 1900-1965”; “New Americans, Continuing Debates, 1965-2000”; and “Places of Negotiation.” Each section is indicated by a different color for its main label and case design. The exhibit space is dimly lit, allowing dramatic spotlights to draw attention to featured objects and interactives throughout.


Mortar and (reproduction) Pestle


Rice Processing

Implements of rice production in the Carolinas included a mortar and pestle for milling to remove the husk from the grain and a fanner basket for winnowing the husks and chaff away. As in West African rice-growing regions, most processing was women’s work.

Mortar, Transfer from Bureau of Ethnology
Reproduction pestle

Verbal Description

This mortar and pestle are displayed as part of the section “Unsettling the Continent, 1492-1776,” in a case that focuses on British South Carolina. The mortar is an original piece and the pestle is a reproduction made to help illustrate how the mortar was used for rice processing. Both pieces are made entirely of wood and sit right on the floor of the case in which they are displayed. The floor of the case is approximately one and a half feet off the ground. A label with information about British immigration rises from the case floor in front of the mortar. The label for the mortar and pestle is located to the upper left of the objects under a historical photograph of a woman using a similar mortar and pestle. The mortar is a hollowed out, wooden cylinder that is approximately two and a half feet tall. The wood is a rich, deep brown that is cracked in some places and, in others has been worn smooth by age and use. The pestle is a cylindrical wooden staff approximately four feet long. It is much lighter in color than the mortar, and its surface is rough, showing off the wood’s natural grain and markings. At both ends, a foot-long section of the pestle is carved out to be wider than the two-foot section in between, providing a narrower section to grip in the middle and a wider, mashing head on either end. The pestle is stuck end-down inside the mortar with the top leaning against the back wall of the case, as if its user has just propped it there to take a quick break.  


King Kalakaua’s Hawaiian Wood Bowl


King Kalakaua’s bowl of koa wood, late 1800s

Verbal Description

King Kalakaua’s bowl is part of a larger display called “Expansion Beyond the Continent” which features objects from Hawai’i and Puerto Rico. The bowl sits on the left-hand side of the case, approximately two feet off the ground on a white table-like platform. This platform is located behind a display of two coins. The bowl’s label tells us that it was made in the late 1800s out of Hawaiian wood and that the object is currently on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The bowl is approximately one and a half feet in diameter and one foot tall. It consists of two parts, a lid that is flat on top with rounded edges, and a bowl which sits on a wooden pedestal base and is squat with rounded sides. In the display, the lid is closed, resting on top of the bowl. The Hawaiian wood is smooth and polished to a warm glow. The wood is lustrous in appearance and made up of a mix of browns with a grain that appears splotchy in some places and flows in long, curving streaks in others. There is a small insignia in the center of the lid that may have been applied with a stamp or brand. The label does not provide any details about how the bowl was used. 


Papier Mache Statue of Liberty


Marching with Liberty

In 2000 agricultural activists carried this contemporary interpretation of the Statue of Liberty on a two-week, 230-mile march for dignity, dialogue, and a fair wage. The protest was organized in Florida by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). The CIW brought together diverse, interracial groups including agricultural workers, environmentalists, and community organizers, to negotiate for better working conditions and higher wages in the agricultural industry.

Verbal Description

This massive papier-mâché sculpture stands approximately eleven feet tall. It is displayed alone inside a simple glass case that sits in the middle of an area of open floor space, allowing the piece to be viewed from all sides. It is part of the exhibition section titled, “New Americans, Continuing Debates, 1965-2000.” The sculpture is a depiction of the Statue of Liberty. Like the iconic statue after which it was modeled, this sculpture is of a female figure wearing a mint green, toga-style dress and a crown of the same color with seven spikes radiating out around her head. Also like her famous namesake, this Liberty is holding an object aloft in her right hand and clasping another object close to her body with her left arm. However, the objects this statue is holding represent familiar elements of agricultural workers’ lives. She holds a single tomato raised up high in her right hand and in her left arm cradles a red, tomato picker’s bucket overflowing with ripe tomatoes. The bucket is a real bucket used in field work and is, therefore, the only part of the sculpture made of plastic rather than papier-mâché. Another notable distinction of this sculpture is that, while the original Statue of Liberty is copper coated, giving the entire piece its signature minty green color, this papier-mâché version is painted, allowing the artist to paint the tomatoes a bright red with green leaves and give the lady herself rich, mocha brown skin and jet-black hair. She stands serenely, face set in calm determination, and painted surfaces shining in the soft exhibit lights.