The exhibition offers a focused look at a selection from a remarkable collection of Native American art that the museum is preparing to steward that represents the most significant acquisition both in size and importance since the museum’s founding.
“The Perry collection forms the core of a museum initiative to collaborate with Indigenous nations, scholars and culture bearers to present a model of stewardship for Indigenous creative culture and presentation to a broad audience. Built from the Earth presents visitors with a preview of what’s to come,” said the John Wilmerding Director and CEO of Shelburne Museum Thomas Denenberg.
Built from the Earth centers around the skill and artistry of potters from eight Pueblo communities in New Mexico: Haak’u (Acoma), Halona:wa (Zuni), K’awaika (Laguna), Kewa (Santo Domingo), Kotyit (Cochiti), P’o Woe-geh Owingeh (San Ildefonso), Tamaya (Santa Ana), and Ts’iya (Zia).
Delving into the historic methods deeply rooted in the land and materials of New Mexico, the exhibition elucidates the various techniques employed to create these magnificent works of art. The focal point of the exhibition is the symbolic spiral motif present in Pueblo pottery, Associate Curator of Native American Art Victoria Sunnergren explained. “The form of the spiral holds multiple meanings in Pueblo culture. Painted delicately on pottery using thin yucca brushes, it evokes feathers, prayers and the communities’ migration history. These spiraled meanings manifest in the very act of creating Pueblo pottery, wherein clay is carefully coiled in layer upon layer and meticulously smoothed into its final form — a vessel built from earth,” Sunnergren said.
The process of crafting Pueblo pottery is explored in the exhibition from gathering clay and hand-building the pots to creating designs made with pigments derived from plants and minerals and culminating with the firing process.
The exhibition also examines the rich history and diverse cultural traditions of the Pueblo communities. When Spanish conquistadors explored the region in the 16th century, they encountered Indigenous peoples living in permanent housing structures. These Indigenous communities, with their unique languages, religious beliefs and artistic practices, were collectively labeled “Pueblo” by the Spanish, derived from the Spanish word for town. However, in recent years, the Pueblo communities have reclaimed their own Indigenous names, rejecting the names bestowed upon them by the Spanish, often associated with Catholic saints. To honor the sovereignty of these living peoples, the exhibition employs the Indigenous names for each Pueblo.
Visit the website of Shelburne Museum and see its dedicated page for Built from the Earth: Pueblo Pottery from the Anthony and Teressa Perry Collection.