I think theyre
very eager to return, said Lonnie Vigil of Nambé Pueblo,
and so are we to have them back.
Cultural Center in Pojoaque, New Mexico (photo courtesy Poeh
SANTA FE, New Mexico This month, the Poeh Cultural Center
at the Pueblo of Pojoaque in New Mexico unveiled a collection of
100 pieces of Tewa pottery, newly restored to the land where they
were created. The exhibition, titled Di Wae Powa: They Came Back,
signals the start of an extended partnership between the Smithsonians
National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and Pueblo communities.
Until now, the collection was maintained at the NMAI.
The arrangement materialized after Pojoaque Pueblos former
governor George Rivera, then-lieutenant governor Joseph Talachy,
and the Pueblos Historic Preservation Officer Bruce Bernstein
first proposed to NMAI in 2015 that the pots be returned to their
communities. NMAI agreed to a long-term loan. The agreement does
not yet have a timeline, only an understanding that the two organizations
will be involved in a co-stewardship of the works, with respect
to their history and intended use. NMAI is advising the Poeh about
conservation techniques, and Tewa potters are in turn working with
NMAI to enhance their understanding of the extensive collection.
Our goal at NMAI is to encourage and increase access to our
collections, and one of the ways we do that is through loans,
Cynthia Chavez Lamar, Assistant Director for Collections at NMAI,
told Hyperallergic. We really want to connect native peoples
with their ancestral material heritage.
The exhibition will also double as a research space, in which local
potters will be able to examine and work with certain pieces directly.
The creation of a teaching collection was an important
aspect of the agreement, in keeping with the Poehs goal to
bring Pueblo community members into conversation and interaction
with the works of their ancestry. A lot of our youths have
yet to experience what it takes to make these pots, said Evonne
Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo. Its important that
we teach them
its not just a piece of clay, its
not material. Its what you put into it from your heart and
your mind. Its the song, its the prayer, its the
conversations that took place when they were being made.
Tafoya of Santa Clara and Pojoaque Pueblo demonstrates the
handling of a piece of Tewa pottery on opening day (photo
courtesy Poeh Cultural Center in partnership with Smithsonian
National Museum Of The American Indian)
The six Tewa-speaking Pueblos Nambé, Pojoaque, San
Ildefonso, Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan), Santa Clara, and Tesuque
line the Rio Grande north of Santa Fe. Tewa pottery became
an important method of cultural practice and resistance after the
Spanish arrived in New Mexico in the 1600s. The pieces in the collection
were acquired by private individuals primarily George Gustav
Heye, who donated the majority of NMAIs works in the
late 19th and early 20th centuries, and eventually given to NMAI.
The collection at the Poeh was selected by representatives from
the six Tewa Pueblos out of NMAIs 500-plus pieces to represent
the various Tewa pottery styles and communities. There have been
many pottery methods over the centuries, including polished black
Kapo pottery, ogapage polychrome, and black pots colored using cow
or horse dung in the firing of the clay. To avoid the influence
that the demands of tourism placed on the work, none of the pieces
selected was created after the 1930s.
Jar (1880-1900), San Ildefonso Pueblo, item 24/4433
(image courtesy the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum
of the American Indian)
This is the only collection of its kind in New Mexico,
Jake Viarrial, Tourism Coordinator at the Poeh, told Hyperallergic.
These are all utilitarian pieces that were originally sold,
so they dont have a sensitive origin there is a lot
less of that red tape that comes along with those sensitive pieces.
The Poeh specifically selected pieces that were not subject to NAGPRA
(the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act), which
requires federal or federally funded institutions return certain
items to descendants and their affiliated tribes or organizations.
We want to make sure that the exhibit, this space, felt welcoming
and comfortable to Tewa Pueblo visitors, said executive director
Karl Duncan (Arikara, Hidatsa, Mandan, and San Carlos Apache) to
the Santa Fe New Mexican. In keeping with this mission, none of
the pieces have been used in ceremonies, or excavated. They are
displayed on tiered adobe-style steps, as they might have been in
their original Pueblo settings.
For Pojoaque and the other Pueblo communities along the Rio Grande
Valley, whose culture was systematically wiped out in the 16th century
and where the the burden of that erasure is still born today, the
return of these pieces to their home is deeply significant. Of the
pottery, Clarence Cruz of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo said, they
are living, they do have a spirit, they are breathing as well. Theyre
day of Di Wae Powa: They Came Back (photo courtesy
Poeh Cultural Center in partnership with Smithsonian National
Museum Of The American Indian)
The traditional Tewa pottery method involves deep emotional investment
as potters work through the long processes of drying, shaping,
and firing, they work their intentions and emotions into the objects.
The combination of water and earth is seen as a life-creating act,
Duncan said: all of these pots have the ancestors feelings
and intentions in them.
The homecoming of this collection is the first chapter of
reviving our culture, bringing it back and restoring it for us,
keeping it alive in our hands and in our traditions, said
Lynda Romero, Collections Manager at the Poeh. One hopes more partnerships
like this one continue the trend of restoring art and artifacts
to the hands and lands of their origin.