Long ago, the local Lenape people built their houses out of saplings and bark. Last week, experts working at Bartow-Pell continued this historic tradition as they made major repairs to our wigwam.
Jeff Kalin, whose company, Primitive Technologies, “recreates the material culture of prehistoric Native American life,” and his son, Griffin, used authentic methods to rebuild our aging structure.
The first step was to reconstruct the frame using flexible lengths of fresh cedar saplings that were anchored in the ground and lashed together with strips of hickory bark. (Cedar wood is ideal for wigwam frames because it can stay in the dirt a long time without rotting.) Jeff and Griffin cut the wood with a reproduction stone axe secured to a wooden handle, and they used handmade hickory mallets to set the cedar posts in the ground.
Next, the framing was ready for the siding, which is made of bark from ash and tulip poplar trees held in place by an outer frame of cedar sapling poles. Jeff was able to recycle some of the old bark by soaking it in a stream to restore its flexibility.
Sustainable materials are at the center of Jeff’s work. His saplings grow continuously from root stock that dates to the 1980s, and every part of each tree is used for something—wigwam poles, tool handles, rattles, or fuel for firing pottery.
Our beautifully crafted Lenape wigwam, set in the woods of Pelham Bay Park, is ready to continue its starring role in our Native American school programs.
Margaret Highland, Education Director and Curator