By Jonathan Fairbanks, Decorative Arts Trust Chairman Emeritus
The Katharine Lane Weems Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture Emeritus, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
In the main village of the Laguna pueblo in New Mexico (far west of Albuquerque), just a few adobe houses down from the church by the square, I sat with Trust members in the home and at the family table of Mrs. Evelyn Cheromiah, a famous Native potter. Throughout more than five decades, she helped preserve the pottery traditions of Laguna. We were invited into Evelyn’s home to partake of the bounty celebrated on Laguna’s feast day of Saint Joseph that took place on Sept. 19th. It is customary on feast days for Native Americans to invite visitors into their homes and to offer a meal. I knew Mrs. Cheromiah because in the 1980s, while collecting native pottery for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, I had called by her home in order to insure that an example of her pottery came to the MFA. She is now in her 80s. She continues to produce fine pottery. Her daughter, LeeAnn Cheromiah, an accomplished potter, served us at the family table. Present were other members of her family—also potters. The food was delicious—turkey, dressing, ham, stew, green chili, together with the incomparable Indian bread that is baked slowly in out-of-doors wood fired ovens of adobe or hornos. Mrs. Cheromiah generously invited into her home other members of our organization visiting the Pueblo that day. The Cheromiah family may not have known that a busload of visitors would accept their invitation. As visitors came and went, generous quantities of food continued to be served while LeeAnn explained the materials and techniques used in making Native Pueblo pottery. LeeAnn’s artist statement, “Talking to the Clay,” offers a wonderful perspective for those interested and can be found at www.tribalexpressions.com/pottery/ cheromiah.htm.
The Decorative Arts Trust was in New Mexico holding its fall symposium. Staying in Santa Fe and the historic La Fonda Hotel on the square, we left by bus and traveled over an hour into the plains to witness the dances on Laguna’s Feast Day. Because native craftsmen from many other pueblos were vending their wares throughout the village, Trust members scattered on arrival. Most headed to the plaza, beside the church, to witness the spectacular dances accompanied by the beat of drums and songs. The first dance I saw was a social dance, “Follow the Leader,” that included many women dressed in their traditional and colorful native clothing. It is impossible to capture with words the devotional rhythms and sight of Pueblo dances. Now, back home in New England, the memories of that Laguna experience lingers in my mind. A Laguna pot on our bookshelf holds a piece of paper with a poem written by the famous poet of Laguna, Leslie Marmon Silko (b. 1948) who holds a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant of 1981. The words of the poem were jotted down by my wife and then tucked into our Laguna pot. Perhaps a few words here are not quite as the author penned them but I believe that the essence derives from Silko’s Laguna Woman Poems published in 1974.
IN COLD STORM LIGHT
In cold storm light
I watch the sandrock
The wind is wet
With the smell of pinon.
The wind is cold
With the sound of juniper.
Out of the thick ice sky
Swirling above the tree-tops
The snow elk come.
Storm wind in the branches.
And when the elk have passed
A crystal trail of snowflakes
Strands of mist
Tangled in rocks
Now is the season of elk hunting in New Mexico. Evidence of that was at the airport where hunters in camouflage checked into flights with their many pointed antler head trophies and huge iced containers holding meat obtained from hunting.
Far more precious, I believe, was what Trust members carried home from New Mexico, the “Land of Enchantment.” We brought back wonderful memories of ceremonies, visits with Native Americans and crafts persons of Hispanic descent, guided tours of outstanding museum and private collections, seminars, lectures, photos (where permitted) and many opportunities to acquire wonderful works of art.
The Trust seminars in Santa Fe began with Dr. Eric Blinman, from the Archaeological Studies Office of the Museum of New Mexico, showing us through maps and charts how the migration of people from the north began to form the Pueblo settlements that we know today. Curiously, none of the Pueblo Indian languages are related to each other. We were then honored with greetings in the Keresan language by Wayne Aguilar, jewelry maker of the Santo Domingo Pueblo. His elder brother, Tony and sister, Mary—all master jewelry makers, accompanied Wayne.
Following the Trust visit to the Laguna Feast Day, the bus took us to the Acoma Pueblo or Sky City where we toured that Pueblo on a mesa that has been continuously occupied longer than any other site in the U.S.—since prehistoric times. Here we were met by Maria-Lilly Salvador, Acoma potter and her family members at the new Acoma museum (Haak’u Museum) where the exhibition, “The Matriarchs: Generations of Tradition,” is currently on view. The collector and guest curator for this important exhibition, David Rasch walked us through his display and discussed his Acoma collection in terms of form and relationships.
It would be tedious to recite the many extraordinary events and experiences of the Trust’s Symposium September 17–21. Yet a highlight that must be mentioned is the lecture and tour by historian Dr. Ward A. Minge about his experiences forming the collection at the Casa San Ysidro in Corrales, NM, now owned by the Albuquerque Museum of Art. The lecture room became crowded during this lecture as experts around the region came to hear this master historian and master collector. Should you travel to New Mexico, be sure to not miss a visit to this historic site that is abundantly furnished with antiquities appropriate to this site.
Reprinted in part from www.artfact.com