Plimoth Patuxet Harvests Bark in Kentucky for Nuhshwetu Building Project
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Plimoth Patuxet Museums’ Wampanoag Indigenous Program.
A highlight of this milestone year is the ongoing maintenance of a nuhshwetu using traditional methods and materials. Nuhshwetu is the Wampanoag word for a house large enough to accommodate three fires. The nuhshwetu on the Historic Patuxet Homesite represents the winter shelter for an extended family. Originally constructed in 2017 under the leadership of Darius Coombs (Mashpee Wampanoag), this traditional bark-covered house is an integral feature of the Historic Patuxet Homesite and is enjoyed by visitors as they learn about Wampanoag culture and lifeways.
The work on this 36-foot-long cedar wood-framed structure is expected to be completed by the end of May. This activity will give museumgoers an opportunity to see firsthand an Indigenous lifeways skill that has been passed on through the generations. The work on the nuhshwetu is part of the Museum’s ongoing maintenance of the overall Historic Patuxet Homesite exhibit.
The project’s first step was sourcing the bark. In April 2023, Museum staff traveled to Berea, Kentucky to peel large pieces of bark from tulip poplar trees that were harvested in the Berea College Forest. This was a collaborative effort with a team from the college led by forester Dr. Clint Patterson. Following several days of work, many panels of beautiful, thick bark were transported back to Plimoth Patuxet in the Museum’s flatbed trailer.
Brad Lopes (Aquinnah Wampanoag), the Museum’s Director of Wampanoag and Indigenous Interpretation and Training, and Tim Turner (Cherokee), Associate Director for Indigenous Education, led the bark harvesting road trip. They were joined by other Museum staff members. “This project has followed in the footsteps of ancestors who built these homes in the Wampanoag homelands,” said Lopes. “Bark harvesting is timed to take place in the spring season when sap is running and the bark can be removed from the trees.” Lopes explained that the bark covering the house can last three to six years, but as time passes, the bark eventually deteriorates and needs replacement. The cedar frame of the house can last upwards of 10 years.
“I’ve had the honor of building and maintaining these homes over the years,” adds Turner, who emphasizes the importance of the project to the Museum’s educational mission. “As a living museum, we’re always excited to share project activity like this with the public. It’s just one of the ways we give our visitors a window into the lifeways of people who have lived in this region for thousands of years and are still here today.”
Plimoth Patuxet Museums encourages Indigenous people from across the region to become involved at the Museum, including an opportunity to help with the current work on the Museum’s nuhshwetu. For more information, contact Brad Lopes at email@example.com. “Sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, elders and children, come join me in being part of this exceptional opportunity to learn more about the process and pass this lifeways skill along to our future generations,” said Lopes. A dedication ceremony and debut programming will occur once the maintenance work is complete.
For more information about the 50th anniversary, visit https://plimoth.org/events. Be sure to follow Plimoth Patuxet on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to see glimpses from the archives highlighting the Museum’s history and the many people who have made the program a success.
About Plimoth Patuxet
Plimoth Patuxet is one of the Nation’s foremost living history museums. Founded in 1947, the Museum creates engaging experiences of history built on thorough research about the Indigenous and European people who met along Massachusetts' historic shores of change in the 1600s. Immersive and educational encounters underscore the collaborations as well as the cultural clash and conflicts of the 17th-century people of this region. Major exhibits include the Historic Patuxet Homesite, the 17th-Century English Village, Mayflower II, and Plimoth Grist Mill. A private, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational institution, Plimoth Patuxet is supported by admission fees, donations, memberships, and revenue from a variety of educational programming, dining and gift shops. Plimoth Patuxet receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, private foundations, corporations, and local businesses. Located less than an hour’s drive south of Boston, and 15 minutes north of Cape Cod, the Museum is open daily from early spring through the Sunday after Thanksgiving. For more information, visit plimoth.org. Follow the Museum on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.