Splendid new showcases for Southwest Indian art.
Help comes from new permanent exhibits at two of this region's most distinguished museums: the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles and the Heard in Phoenix. Other regional museums in the West have strong collections in one or more areas (see page 62), but none offers as comprehensive a look at the cultures of the Indians who live from the lower Colorado River through New Mexico and north into the Four Corners region. Pan-Indian themes at the Southwest
Oldest museum in Los Angeles, the Southwest was founded in 1907 near the terminus of the Santa Fe Railroad. Concerned with the study of "natural man" (the American Indian), its founders included journalist Charles Lummis, who walked across the country in the 1880s, chronicling Indian life with his camera. (The museum is marking the centennial of his arrival in L.A. with a show of 100 photographs, opening February 1.)
Lummis's 20,000 documentary photographs and extensive authentication of the collections have helped make this museum a scholar's mecca. Over the past two years, gallery renovations--including the Southwest Indian hall that opened last fall--and a new program of events are attracting more visitors than ever.
Director Patrick Houlihan sees the Heard with its generous space as the textbook, the Southwest as the critical essay. Since its galleries can display only 5 percent of the collections, you're assured of seeing a fine sampling of the West's best-preserved, best-documented artifacts.
To give a broad picture of Indian life, displays are organized on pan-human themes: hunting and gathering, footwear, adornment, and so on. In a case devoted to food preparation, you'll see ladles used by the Mogollon in 1200 alongside those of the Navajo in 1900; weaving exhibits range from a 2,700-year-old Hohokam spindle to a 1930 Zuni backstrap loom.
Other collections here are devoted to Indians of the Great Plains, Northwest Coast, California, Meso-America, and South America. A shop carries selected contemporary Indian crafts, art, books.
The museum, just west of the Pasadena Freeway (State 110) at 234 Museum Drive in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles, is open 11 to 5 Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 to 5 Sundays. Admission is $1.50 for adults, $1 for seniors, 75 cents for youths. Telephone is (213) 221-2164. For more on the museum's satellite facilities, turn to page 62. At the Heard, 15,000 years of history
"We didn't want this to be just another pot and basket collection. We wanted to help people understand the character of the artists," explains Robert Breunig, curator of the Heard Museum's "Native Peoples of the Southwest," the most comprehensive permanent exhibit devoted to Southwest Indians anywhere.
And it works. Visiting the show, located in 11,000 new square feet of museum space, is like walking through the pages of a lavishly illustrated encyclopedia of Southwest ethnology. Showing off the best of the museum's 75,000 catalogued items, the exhibits examine 23 prehistoric and contemporary tribes geographically, in the context of their daily life and rituals.
A 30-minute sound-and-slide show with Indian voices talking, often with much feeling, about their lives and art sets a spiritual tone for seeing the exhibit. Another two-thirds of the museum is devoted to rotating exhibits, contemporary and traditional. And an expanded shop sells virtually all contemporary Southwest Indian-made crafts available today.
On March 2 and 3, some 2,000 Indian artisans and dancers will convene at the Heard for the annual Indian Fair. You can watch them in action, see their work, and sample various Indian foods.
At 22 E. Monte Vista Road in Phoenix, the Heard is open 10 to 4:45 Mondays through Saturdays, 1 to 4:45 Sundays. Admission is $2 adults, $1.50 seniors, 75 cents students. Call (602) 252-8840 with questions, 252-8848 for recorded information.
Row upon row of kachinas
Kachinas, the spirit friends who bring to Hopi and Zuni people all good things including rain, growth, and health, appear as costumed dancers in village ceremonies, each with its characteristic personality, costume, and song.
In the museums, kachinas are represented by dolls carved from cottonwood roots--originally ceremonial gifts to little girls. Collectors have sought them
for the last century. In general, you'll see earlier and rarer kachinas in the Southwest Museum's exhibits devoted to religion and ritual. Some 50 of 450 Hopi and Zuni dolls are on view there; most date from before 1920.
No museum has more kachina dolls on permanent exhibit than the Heard; you can view about half their total collection of about 1,200, most donated by Senator Barry Goldwater and the Fred Harvey Company.
Pottery, plain to amazingly sophisticated
Ceramic pottery for daily use dates back to prehistoric times. Some, like the pottery of the Mimbres people, is decorated with an art sense that seems amazingly contemporary and sophisticated.
As the use of metal ware spread in the 1800s, pottery production declined, only to undergo a revival in the early 1900s to meet tourist demand.
Blessed with 70,000 whole pots, the Southwest Museum can display less than 1 percent. The museum's own excavations have yielded detailed documentation. You'll learn about rare mortuary vessels excavated from a prehistoric Mimbres site in 1929; elsewhere, pots and bowls appear alongside a 1901 photograph depicting them with their maker Nampeyo, who brought traditional designs to the ceramics revival.
With excellent ceramics from all tribes, the Heard's Rio Grande collection is among the best anywhere: a dramatic see-through exhibit in the new wing includes three black pots by the late Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso.
Woven art: clothing, rugs, "eye dazzlers"
Originally, Navajo textiles were made as apparel--blankets, ponchos, serapes--of natural wools. The early 1800s brought Spanish-imported indigo blue dyes and crimson threads from raveled European flannels. The Navajos, who learned weaving from the Pueblos, soon became--and remain today--unrivaled in their use of design and color.
The Southwest Museum has assembled the finest collection of classical (pre-1890) Navajo textiles in the U.S. Some drape figures in the new permanent exhibit. In March, the museum's downtown gallery (see page 62) will show more examples.
The Heard's new exhibit displays mainly woven clothing from the 1800s by Navajos, Hopis, and other Pueblo weavers. This is the last month to see the "eye dazzlers" pictured above, a style learned during Navajo imprisonment by the U.S. Army in the 1860s. An exhibit of contemporary weavings goes up in March.
Turquoise and silver . . . since 1850
Earliest Indian turquoise jewelry consisted of chips glued to wood with pine pitch and ashes. About 1850, Mexicans introduced the Navajo to silversmithing; Zuni and Hopi silver and turquoise jewelry production followed. In this century, each tribe has developed distinctive styles.
The Southwest's holdings, far smaller than the Heard's, but earlier, emphasize items made by Indians for their own use.
The Heard's extensive Fred Harvey jewelry collection, amassed by the company that built hotels and trading posts along the Santa Fe line, is considered second to none: an entire room shows a dazzling variety of necklaces, bracelets, rings, belts.
Indian art still evolving
Indian artistry continues to evolve. Allan Houser, Fritz Scholder, R.C. Gorman, and others have gained national renown while adding new dimensions to Indian interpretations of their culture.
In the heart of the country's largest and most diverse urban Indian population, the Southwest addresses contemporary arts and crafts with lectures, films, demonstrations, and workshops.
Foremost exhibitor of contemporary Southwest Indian art, the Heard often beats art galleries in discovery of new talent. Fine choices from its collection of 1,700 works are on display through February. Also see sculpture in a new courtyard and a 4-acre park.
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|Date:||Feb 1, 1985|
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