`Ramp It Up' offers glimpse of culture

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Motion, speed, creativity, courage — all are words connected with skateboard culture generally. We see our local kids weaving through the city sidewalks, streets and sometimes, skate parks and hear about championship competitions.

The new Smithsonian exhibit at the Littleton Museum through April 28, “Ramp It Up,” focuses on a particular, perhaps lesser-known segment: skateboard culture in Native America.

The exhibit is installed with the museum's usual solid skills in showing material in its best possible light. Brilliant fuchsia panels are contrasted with blue, rose, gold and more colors to show off the colorfully painted individual decks.

It features 20 skate decks — many with unique designs — made by Native-run companies; related, visually stunning works by contemporary artists; and archival video segments showing Native skaters.

The pieces fit together into a connected scene, especially in the West, of huge, imaginatively designed concrete skateboard parks, filled with lean, fit young men zipping up, over and across barriers, railings, steps and more. Individuals mentioned are identified with ancestry, which often crosses between tribes.

There is recognition of growth from surfing by indigenous Hawaiians as a starting point. “Sidewalk surfing” is referred to and there are stories of Native skater/surfers in the California coastal towns.

Todd Harder (Creek ancestry) is one leader singled out. An experienced traditional dancer, he was also a skater, then became an organizer and vendor of skateboard paraphernalia. He is quoted as noticing young people at ceremonials who were “too cool” to participate in dances. They could be interested in skating and along the way, could learn about cultural history from him at the same time. He started Native Skates in 2004 to “provide affordable skateboards that reflected Native pride and culture.”

He collaborated with Jim Murphy, of Wounded Knee Skates, to form Nibwaakaawin (wisdom), the first Native nonprofit “dedicated to fostering creativity, building courage, enabling cultural identity and pride and promoting non-violent and healthy physical activity through skateboarding.”

Earlier Wounded Knee skateboards exhibited also make political statements on individually painted decks

In 2007, there was an “All Nations Skate Jam” in Albuquerque and for several years, there was a “Pueblo Revolt Redaz,” with improvised jumps, at Santa Ana Pueblo. In 2011, the Santa Ana Community Wellness Center built a skate park.

Pleasing features of this exhibit are some life-sized photographs of young skaters and a series of bright contemporary paintings integrated with the copy and smaller photos that bridge the distances between two worlds in the adventurous way the skaters do.

If you go

“Ramp It Up” runs through April 28 at the Littleton Museum, 6028 S. Gallup St. Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free. 303-795-3950. The display was previously shown at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in New York and National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.