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Museum, ancestral villages offer Native American history lesson

A view of the Rio Grande Valley from the river at the Coronado Historic Site. (Journal)
A view of the Rio Grande Valley from the river at the Coronado Historic Site. (Journal)
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In the late 1970s, museum officials began meeting in Santa Fe with representatives of Native peoples throughout the Southwest to talk about what should be included in the future Museum of Indian Arts & Culture . The result, opened in 1987, has consistently blended many voices into a chorus that includes artifacts from prehistory and samples by the best of contemporary Native artists.

For anyone wanting to know more about New Mexico’s earliest inhabitants, the museum makes a great starting point.

“The core exhibition, Here, Now and Always, is a collaboration with many partners and staff that came together to really try to look at all Native communities in the Southwest and display items from their areas,” interim Director Elena Sweeney said. “When you work with the actual Native people, it portrays what they believe is the real stuff and, for an overall experience, it is wonderful.”

Docents guide visitors through the exhibition daily. (When you’re done, you’ll understand what Santa Fe locals mean when they refer to the “human hairnet.”) A child-friendly Discovery Center in the exhibition includes computer interactive and hands-on activities.

Before summer ends, catch the exhibition They Wove for Horses: Diné Saddle Blankets and its exquisite samples of finely woven blankets that saw actual action on the back of a horse. The exhibition also displays examples of silver and turquoise headstalls created by Diné silversmiths. Some of the pieces date to the 1860s. Together, they reveal the proud history of Diné horsemen (and women).

Through the end of the year, What’s New in New features the museum’s latest acquisitions in the Lloyd Kiva New Gallery. Focused on modern paintings, monotypes, poetry, and sculpture, the exhibition spotlights artists like Samuel Manymules, Marla Allison, David Bradley, Ambrose Atencio, Ross Chaney, and Fritz Scholder.

In June, children and adults can unleash their inner artists at the museum’s Arts Alive! programs, with basketry, weaving, pottery, and Native foods. For details, go to www.indianartsandculture.org.

From the museum, you can visit two ancestral villages that welcome visitors and encourage them to learn more. Coronado Historic Site in the town of Bernalillo, just north of Albuquerque, combines a story of a pre-Spanish-contact pueblo with a glorious setting. Beneath a grand view of Sandia Peak, rebuilt adobe outlines of the onetime Native village sit atop a sandy plain that dips down to the Rio Grande. Trails wander from the onetime archaeological site into open fields and, drought permitting, offer a chance to wet your tired feet in the river’s lazy water.

Inside a visitors’ center designed by famed architect John Gaw Meem, the site hosts a special exhibition this summer of paintings by Manville Chapman. A Raton native, Chapman was the Federal Artist Project supervisor for northeastern New Mexico during the Great Depression. Besides mentoring WPA artists, he created murals inside Raton’s Shuler Theatre and the paintings in Adobe: A New Mexico Tradition.

Go to www.nmstatemonuments.org/coronado for more.

Coronado was once known as Kuaua, a pueblo that was part of the Tiwa-speaking Tiguex Province in what became the Albuquerque area. When archaeologists first worked the site in the 1930s, they discovered amazing layers of natural-pigment murals on the walls of one of the underground ceremonial kivas. The layers were carefully removed and taken to storage, with some pieces on display in the visitors’ center.

In 1938, Zia Pueblo artist Ma-Pe-Wi (Velino Shije Herrera) reproduced some of the murals inside the kiva and, for the last three years, conservators have been working on a restoration that may hit the finish line this June.

Farther up the road, Jemez Historic Site

gives visitors a rare glimpse into Jemez culture. “The modern-day pueblo really isn’t open to visitors,” site Manager Matthew Barbour said. “We’re the only year-round public area where you can come and take pictures.”

The standout feature of the site are the ruins of the San José de los Jémez Mission Church on what was originally known as Giusewa Pueblo. Built in 1621 by Franciscan friars, the church was abandoned in the 1640s, and parts were reclaimed by the pueblo members who stayed behind.

In mid August the site holds its annual Pueblo Independence Day, with a foot race, Jemez dancers, crafts, panel discussions, and tours of the ruins. Go to www.nmstatemonuments.org/jemez for details.

Year-round, groups of 10 or more can call ahead to arrange a special guided tour that crosses private property through Oak Canyon and climbs to the top of Cat Mesa for a view that Barbour calls “astounding.”

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