Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Santa Fe American Indian Museums

After an early morning of birdwatching, we visited two museums: the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, both on "Museum Hill" in Santa Fe. These museums have very rich collections, including entire collections of objects from individual donors and from artists, and are set in a stunning landscape overlooking the nearby mountains.

In front of the Wheelwright Museum.

The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC)

At MIAC a major exhibit was titled: "I-Witness Culture: Frank Buffalo Hyde." From the documentation: "Hyde investigates the space where Native Americans exist today: between the ancient and the new; between the accepted truth and the truth; between the known and the unknown." In particular, he paints images that with insight and humor comment on the current culture of image sharing -- using an iPhone or other device to "see" everything through photo-taking. For example, this painting of a traditional dance:

"Post-millennium, Native Americans are part of the digital age, the selfie age,
where if something hasn’t been posted to social media, it never happened." -- From the exhibit website.
In the permanent exhibit, during this visit and a few previous visits I have always enjoyed seeing the displays showing kitchens from Indian homes throughout the ages, including pre-European-conquest through kitchens on the reservations. Here are two examples:

A traditional kitchen.
Fairly recent kitchen.
The museum also displays incredible collections of historic and recent pottery, and many more works of art and archaeological finds, with much commentary by local native people who participated in determining how their materials would be used and displayed.

An ancient bowl from the Mimbres people, dated 1000-1150.

The Wheelwright Museum

We enjoyed learning the history of the Wheelwright Museum, which was founded in 1937, and has always been housed in a very fascinating modern building that echoes the shape of an Indian Hogan.

Today the Wheelwright's main exhibit displayed beadwork from the 19th century to the present: "Beads: A Universe of Meaning." The items in the exhibit were the best beadwork I have ever seen in any museum before.

A wing of the museum building is also dedicated to Indian silversmithing and jewelry-making at the Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry. This Center has many wonderful features, including a large number of items from many different artists and craftspeople, both men and women, representing around 150 years of Indian workmanship. "One of the strengths of its collection is that many of the earliest objects are documented or attributed to known makers. This enables the museum to present the story of jewelry in the Southwest as a human endeavor rather than just an anonymous sequence of styles," states the website.

The glass-fronted display cases in the exhibit are organized by types of jewelry (such as belts, pendants, earrings, spoons, silver boxes...), or by historic types of jewelry, or by tribes who specialized in silver such as the Zuni, or by individual artist. Each case has detailed explanations and descriptions of people, techniques, influences, and history. A few photos from my visit:

A bolo ornament with a cedar waxwing, 1990,
by jewelry makers Rudell and Nancy Laconsello.

Zuni jewlery.
Very old necklaces and a bellows.

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