Friday, August 22, 2008

A day on Santa Fe's Museum Hill

Today was Museum Hill day.

Our first stop there, where several of Santa Fe's museums are located, was a return visit to the Case Trading Post at the Wheelwright. Several artists were there with their work. It was good to renew acquaintance with Samuel Manymules, Fabian Tsethlikai, Michael Kanteena, Alicia Nelson and Elizabeth Manygoats. A new acquaintance was Mangas Slinkey, a Navajo/Lakota jeweler. We were impressed by the innovation in his work and will look forward to representing him in the future.

From the Case, we shuttled to the New Mexico Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. A state museum with extensive and varied exhibitions. In the order we visited, Here, Now & Always was our first stop.

This sensitive exhibit traces the origins and development of native peoples in the Southwest. To quote, “Three simple words—Here, Now and Always—tell the story of the Southwest’s oldest communities. From elder to younger, each generation has taught the next: We are here, now and we will be here always.”

Coming up from the Earth and into the exhibition hall, the visitor traces, step-by-step, the path of the Southwest’s people. The exhibits carry you to the story of each Native community. This permanent exhibit includes more than 1,300 artifacts from the Museum's collections.

As we journeyed through the communities, we were deeply moved by the struggles, the ingenuities and survival strategies of our nation's first people.

Our next stop was the Buchsbaum Gallery of Southwestern Pottery. Focusing exclusively on the pottery and potters of Southwestern Pueblos and tribes, it is a crash course in the finest examples of this 2000 year old tradition.

The process of pottery making is the ultimate combination of the material and the spiritual. The clay comes from the earth, the same earth that nurtures with food. Extraordinary work goes into gathering, drying, grounding, sifting, straining, removing water and tempering. Then the pot is carefully coiled and built by hand, then scraped, slipped and polished. Finally, comes the test by fire. Firing the pot puts the work to that point at maximum risk. Many pots are lost in the firing.

When a pot was completed, it was used to store, carry and prepare the sustenance of life.

Pottery, which now often is created for sale to collectors, retains this spiritual quality, which the Buchsbaum exhibit dramatizes so effectively.

The next stop was in a temporary exhibit on the light side. Comic Art Indigene presents the relationship between comic art and the expression of native sentiments and sensibilities. We recognized many of the comic book and comic strip characters from our youth. The exhibit also points out that comics, with their very graphic character were a natural medium for a peoples who were not literate in the dominant language. One nice touch about the Comic Art Indigene is the invitation for visitors to create their own comic art using comic strip and skate board templates.

Speaking of visitor involvement, an entire room is devoted to the tools and toys for children to share the experience of native art and culture.

The next stop on the way through was the Spider Woman's Gift, featuring an extraordinary display of more than 40 exquisite Navajo weavings dating from between 1860 and 1880. Spider Woman was said to give Navajos the gift of weaving, and instructing Spider Man to build the first loom. With wooden vertical and horizontal beams it was said to represent the relationship between the earth and sky.

Admittance to the New Mexico Museum of Indian Arts and Culture requires membership in the Museum of New Mexico Foundation.

After our immersion in Native American art and culture, we stopped at the Museum Hill Cafe for early dinner. With the kitchen closing at 3 PM, we probably were the last order in. We always enjoy the Cafe. The seats are outside under a ramada type roof and fabric umbrellas. It is pleasant just to sit and watch the sky change while enjoying a cool beverage. You order at a counter and your choices are delivered to your table. A 10% surcharge is added for service (less by half than we usually tip). Our orders of quesadilla and quiche were generous and well prepared.

After supper we headed back to the Wheelwright for their silent auction. We don't normally bid. Actually, we don't normally win bids. I have a habit of finding items I like and placing early low bids. The strategy is that I might luck out and at least I am established as a bidder and, if I don't win the bid, I keep it going up for the auction sponsors. Well, we got lucky on four out of six bids and ended up taking those objects at the opening low bid.

So, all in all, it was a very good day.

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