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Murals illustrate the traditions and dignity of pueblo cultures

Artist Pablita Velarde included her own image in her mural “The Herd Dance” in the courtyard of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Artist Pablita Velarde included her own image in her mural “The Herd Dance” in the courtyard of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The murals span cultures, stories and styles ranging from the Picasso-esque masks of Helen Hardin to the Santa Fe Indian School tradition of Pablita Velarde.

Comprised of 19 murals painted by 16 artists, the massive Indian Pueblo Cultural Center works show the critical roles the seasons, dance, the harvest, agriculture and animals play in pueblo life.

The center is launching guided 45-minute mural tours honoring these works at 1 p.m. every Friday, complimentary with museum admission.

The IPCC boasts more murals than any other building in New Mexico, says Emma Lee Clarke, the museum’s cultural arts and education coordinator.

“The Runaway” by Tommy Montoya is one of the large murals in the courtyard of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

“The Runaway” by Tommy Montoya is one of the large murals in the courtyard of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Many rise two stories high, towering over the courtyard used for dances and special events. Others grace foyers and loom over alcoves as well as dining areas. Their visual impact is immediate and visceral as they illustrate the traditions and dignity of pueblo cultures.

The mural program germinated in 1977, when the Friends of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center launched a campaign to raise money for the project. The most recent mural, Mallery Quetawki’s (Zuni) “Morning Prayer,” dates to 2010, a commission chosen by the pueblo.

Although current collection managers presume the remaining artists were chosen by committee, they have found no documentation confirming this.

Organizers devised the tour to raise interest in works visitors usually bypass on their way to exhibits, shopping and dining.

“I think people weren’t asking enough questions,” Clarke said. “They were an under-used resource. We have the original maquettes for all of them.”

Velarde’s 1977 “The Herd Dance” features a line of dancers dressed as buffalo, elk, rams and antelope before a pueblo building background. A close glance at the sole female figure in the group reveals a self-portrait of the artist.

Velarde painted herself as a buffalo maiden because she was never chosen for the prestigious Santa Clara role. Based in Albuquerque, the artist rebelled against the pueblo tradition that only men could paint.

“This is a powerful and rebellious act to ensure she is in this dance in perpetuity,” Clarke said.

Pueblo people perform animal dances to maintain harmony with the creatures to be hunted and to honor them for the food and clothing they provide, she added.

In 1979’s “The Chorus,” Velarde’s daughter Helen Hardin chose a much more contemporary style reminiscent of Picasso’s obsession with African masks. The painting consists of five superimposed masks in shades of brilliant orange, turquoise, red-pinks and brown.

Hardin overlapped the shapes to suggest a ritual chant. She said she was “expressing music through color.” Hardin signed her pieces with her Tewa name “Tsa-sah–wee-eh,” Little Standing Spruce, followed by a stylized tree symbol.

Some reveal controversy beneath the brushstrokes.

“Eagle Dance” by Phil Hughte (Zuni) is a virtual explosion of feathers surrounding a costumed dancer. The artist’s fellow pueblo members objected to his original depiction, because it revealed ceremonial secrets, Clarke said. They asked him to paint over the original mural.

“I think it’s very agitated,” she said. “I don’t think he was happy about being told ‘You can’t paint what’s in your heart.'”

Mallery Quetawki’s “Morning Prayer” crowns the entrance to the museum shop and restaurant. The mural presents a virtual road map to the Zuni people. The artist created the piece on separate panels constructed as a manta above a sun face.

The visual story begins at the “Emergence from the Four Worlds” to the “Separation of People” by way of the crow and macaw (migration motifs). It careens through the creation of the clans, the Zuni Salt Lake (representing sovereignty in the victory to stop the establishment of a coal mine that would have disrupted the aquifer). The corn garden and dancers emphasize the movement toward healthier lifestyles. At the far right, a Zuni man and woman stand beside a bowl of cornmeal giving the morning blessing.

The mural tour represents a prelude to the center’s 40th anniversary in 2016, Clarke said.

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