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A design lesson from the Mimbres.

IT SEEMS almost incredible that as far back as 950 to 1000 A.D., five centuries before the time of Columbus, a school of Brilliant decorators, the Mimbres, developed in our own American Southwest. To be precise, the locale of this community was chiefly along the Mimbres River valley in what is now Grant County, New Mexico, approximately eighteen miles west of the present Silver City. Archaeologists who have excavated here or who have made collections of the Mimbres art, regard it as "some of the most beautiful and interesting pottery ever made."

We can imagine a striking contrast between the physical appearance of the American artists in the famous art colonies in New Mexico today and that of the ancients who lived in the neighboring Mimbres art colony. Could we have visited the latter, we would have observed dark-skinned Indians engaged part-time in farming along the lowlands of the river, hunting, and gathering wild food to help out the family larder aside from their pottery industry. We might have enjoyed the thrill of sitting down with those artists at work along a sunny wall of a pueblo-like building. We would have noted that the men clad in breech cloths and the women wearing blankets, fringed sashes, and sandals, worked industriously moulding and firing pottery, and expertly decorating the white, polished surfaces usually with a black pigment--altogether a colorful picture.

Oddly enough, practically all this pottery took the form of 6owls, probably due to their use in burial ceremonials. incidentally, before placement with the dead, the Mimbres customarily punched a hole in the pot. It is believed the purpose was to release the spirit of the vessel which was considered a part of the artist who made it. The dotted line on the deer on the opposite page indicates one such perforation. As a matter of historical fact, had it not been customary to bury the vessels safe from the depredations of weather, these priceless works of art would have been desert dust today; and so, fortunately, due to this strange custom, our country has good collections in a number of our museums.

The unusual technique of this prehistoric art, the fineness of decoration and marked originality are the despair of the modern designer. The Mimbres exercised such sureness and accuracy of drawing and spacing that in one example twenty-seven lines were drawn in a band less than two inches in width. Inasmuch as they must have used only the fine fringe of a yucca stem for a brush as do the Pueblo Indian artists today, the fact adds to our marvel of their skill. Furthermore, of special interest to us today, the Mimbres' art is so vital, so swiftly direct and rhythmic, that it has been said to "epitomize the newest modern theories about art."

The illustrations herewith exhibit a few representatives of the two types of Mimbres design, both equally remarkable; the geometric (right-hand circular figures on opposite page) and the naturalistic to be noted as parts of other examples.

The naturalistic designs are charming, formalized creatures beautifully composed--birds, animals, fish, fowls, frogs. bats, snails, turtles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, bugs, and other life forms, these often ornamented with geometric motifs, all of which fascinate children. The drawings of people sometimes used have given us clues as to clothing and activities of that time.

The geometric or conventional elements employed by the Mimbres include key figures, scrolls, chequer patterns, wavy, serrated, and cribbed lines, some of these showing the influence of textiles.

Strangely, in the Twelfth Century these people vanished. No one knows why they left or what was their new location. They may have moved south and become assimilated with other peoples.

Of what value can the art of the Mimbres (and other Indian arts) be to elementary education? The following may well 6e considered:

1. Appreciation. Mimbres decorative art, as with any great art, can 6e a source of appreciation of the fine and beautiful, for such development of appreciation is a means toward wholesome emotional enjoyment in life.

2. Intellectual Stimulation. In the case of the Mimbres story, as with many an art story, the history is not only interesting 6ut each such episode builds, brick by brick, an understanding of our America's great past which has made the present possible and the more intelligible.
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Title Annotation:American Indian art
Author:Wadsworth, Beula M.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:Method artmaking: the results.
Next Article:Survey results.

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