The Pueblo Indian “Storytellers”The Pueblo Indians succeeded in sustaining an agricultural civilization in the arid southwestern desert through pre-colonial and into colonial times. They were fine farmers and also fighters: the only successful revolt against the Spanish colonial powers in the Americas was the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The Pueblos have maintained a distinctive culture noted, among other things, for superb pottery.
The “storytellers” are a recent adaptation of the legendary Pueblo skill in ceramics. Figurative pottery goes back to 300BC-400AD among the Anasazi, the ancestors of the Pueblo. It disappeared or went underground during the colonial period, then reemerged in the 19th century as tourists arrived in the Southwest by railroad. Helen Cordero of Cochiti Pueblo was making “Singing Mothers” (women with one or two children in their laps) in the 1950s, and in 1964 she modeled her grandfather in this pose and called him “storyteller”. This art form has taken on a life of its own: it is made by many potters and is widely collected.
Here we see a fairly traditional “singing mother / storyteller” and a more modern take on the theme.
Iroquois Salamander AmuletThis salamander or lizard measures 7″ long without the rawhide tassels attached to each limb, nose and tail. The leather top and bottom are stitched together and the back is decorated with flattened porcupine quills dyed yellow and purple. The quills along the spine are angled to produce a triangular pattern. The quills have a beautiful sheen and most visitors to Mariposa do not guess that the colorful decoration comes from the prickly porcupine!
This artifact was produced for the tourist trade. In Iroquois tradition, we were told, the umbilical cord of a newborn boy would be sewn into this amulet to bring him good luck and protect him from harm. Some of the Plains Indians, such as the Arapaho and Blackfeet, made similar amulets.
You’ll find this salamander in the last white case on the left wall of the Mariposa gift shop, along with other small objects from the Americas.
Huichol Jaguar MaskThe Huichol Indians from the mountains of north central Mexico have created two distinctive folk art forms: yarn paintings and beaded animals such as this jaguar mask. Huichol art uses brilliant colors and symbols derived from the peyote religion that these desert people practice. The three symbols most important to the Huichol are the deer (symbolizing the people), maize (their main food), and peyote (the vehicle for mystical union with the spirit world).
The tiny beads on the jaguar are applied with tweezers or a needle to a coat of beeswax and resin that covers a carved wooden form. To learn more about the symbolism of the designs, come to Mariposa at 2PM on Thursday, October 15 to hear Nicole Colvin-Griffin. She will speak on Huichol art, culture and religion, as well as the Huichol people’s efforts to remain in their ancestral homelands.
Quechuan Huayno HatThis couple wears the traditional huayno hats of the Quechuan Indians of Peru. The huayno represents the sun, a deity in the Incan religion. It plays an important role in the annual Inti Raimi festival in Cuzco, Peru. A full size huayno is on display in a case on our ground floor.
The male dancer is called el cholo and she la chola. He is holding a colorful plaited rope, and the couple dance always connected by this rope. In fact, if she dances too far away, he pulls her back in. This dance means that she belongs to him!
Chiapas Zapatista Rebel DollThis masked doll clothed in black comes from Chiapas in Mexico. Do you see what he or she is holding? It is a gun. This is one of the Zapatista rebels who began fighting the Mexican government in 1983, demanding better treatment for the dozens of indigenous tribes who live in the highlands of southern Mexico, especially in Chiapas and Oaxaca. This doll is a fascinating example of the way folk art addresses contemporary issues.
Huichol MaskThe Huichol Indians of north central Mexico are renowned for their beaded objects such as the jaguar mask you saw here on October 8, and yarn paintings like this one on a mask. Huichol art uses brilliant colors and symbols derived from the peyote religion that these desert people practice.
Yarn painting evolved about 30 years ago from a simpler form, the Nierika, a ceremonial tablet or sacred offering decorated with yarn designs. The design on this mask incorporates the deer, one of the three symbols most important to the Huichol: the deer (symbolizing the people), maize (their main food), and peyote (the vehicle for mystical union with the spirit world). You will find this mask next to a beaded deer statuette in a case on our ground floor.
Folk art techniques have spread far beyond their original boundaries, and so Mariposa now displays yarn paintings from Nigeria inspired by Huichol artists from Mexico!
Aztec Piedra del SolThe great civilizations of Mexico, such as the Aztec and Mayans, had highly developed astronomical systems. The Aztecs adopted the Toltec calendar, which ordered time in 52 year cycles based on their observation of the constellation the Pleiades.
The Aztec Piedra del Sol, or Stone of the Sun, is depicted here in a bark painting. Axayacatl, the sixth Aztec Emperor, had this stone monolith sculpted in 1479 to depict and honor the sun god Tonatiuh. The Spanish priests demanded that it be buried after the conquest of Mexico. Unearthed in 1790, it is now preserved in the National Museum. It weighs 24 tons and measures 3.5 meters in diameter.
Amazonian Shipibo FiguresThe Shipibo people live in the rain forests of Peru’s upper Amazon, where the pink dolphin swims. They have a deep knowledge of the forest and its healing herbs.
These two Shipibo figures are wearing bark cloth garments decorated with patterns similar to their body tattoos. Bark cloth is made by pounding fibrous bark until it spreads out into a thin sheet suitable for clothing. Bark cloth comes not only from South America but also from Asia and the Pacific. In Hawaii it is called “tapa” cloth.
Shipibo God’s EyeThe god’s eye from the Shipibo of the Peruvian Amazon is made from wood, brightly colored yarn and feathers. It offers protection to a new baby or a sick person inside the house. The sharp end is not a spear – it allows the homeowner to plant the God’s eye firmly in the dirt. Not only does the God’s eye ward off evil spirits, it also notifies a visitor that someone inside is in delicate health. Perhaps a visitor with a bad cold will not drop in on a mother with a newborn.
Many cultures have protective amulets against the evil eye — Uncle Vito from Italy had charms in his garden, Turkish friends gave me a blue glass “eye” to protect against danger, and Vietnamese houses might have a mirror over the door to frighten away a ghost or bad spirit.
Do you have any such amulet in your house? How do you keep away unwelcome visitors and protect your family from illness?
Mayan WeaverMayan civilization is at least 3,000 years old. The Mayan peoples still living in southern Mexico and Guatemala no longer live in the great temple cities of their ancestors, but they continue an unbroken tradition of superb weaving. Though weavers now use wool and synthetics in addition to the traditional cotton, and synthetic as well as natural dyes, their weavings incorporate pre-Columbian motifs in an astonishing rainbow of design rich in meaning, both personal and communal.
Women do most of the weaving, often taking two or three months to complete a single garment. A girl may offer her first huipil (blouse) to a Catholic saint (analogous to the Mayan goddess Ixchel) to ask her blessing. Men traditionally grew maize (corn), the staple of the Mayans. Many men were murdered by the Guatemalan military during the civil war that lasted from 1960 to 1996. Their wives, mothers and daughters had to take over the farm work and still, many women continue to weave.
Mayan culture is committed to passing on ancient rituals and values, and neither the people nor their weaving has disappeared. The huipil celebrates life and nature, and it also affirms tradition in the face of continuing prejudice and the pressure of modern life.
Tikuna Owl MaskThis owl mask is made of wood and bark cloth similar to the clothing of the Shipibo people featured several weeks ago. Note the tapir below the owl’s wood face!
The mask comes from the Tikuna people of the Colombian Amazon. It is used in ceremonies marking a girl’s passage into puberty.
Inuit or Eskimo SceneThis charming scene of domestic life among the Inuit or Eskimo is now on display in Mariposa’s library case, as part of “Natives of the Americas”, open until January 11.
Made of bone, horn and stone, this scene shows (from right to left) an igloo, a fishing harpoon, a child playing with a toy whip, a man butchering a seal, the sled that pulled the seal in from the pack ice, two dogs in eager attendance, a seal skin stretcher, and an “inuksuk”.
The inuksuk is a stone marker or cairn in the shape of a person: “inuk” in Inuit language means “person” and “suk” means “in place of”. The inuksuk guides the traveler through the vast distances of the north, helping her or him find the way home or to hunting and fishing grounds. It provides comfort, a sign of human presence in the wilderness. Because the inuksuk cannot stand unless every stone is carefully placed and plays its role, it also symbolizes the importance of working together. Every member of the community has importance and meaning; the community will not stand unless all work together.
Wooden Hunter’s MaskWood is scarce in the far north. This beautifully carved mask with a swirling pattern in the grain between the eyes is one of the few wood artifacts in Mariposa’s display of Inuit or Eskimo artifacts, on view in our library case until January 11.
This simple mask could save a hunter’s life, for it is worn to protect the eyes from snow blindness. The sun bouncing off the snow can blind a man, so he must wear these goggles to be sure he’s able to return home at the end of the day.
This piece is on loan from Jay and Toni Garland, who lived in Barrow, Alaska from 1960 to 1962.
Alaskan Toy KayakAn elegantly made toy kayak shows in miniature the details of the full size kayak that carries a hunter out into the sea. The kayak is sewn from caribou leather. The hunter’s suit is made of seal intestine, stitched together to provide a waterproof and tough garment. The ruff could be made of rabbit, wolf or wolverine fur: all are used in the costume of a doll in the same display. Finally, a scrap of wood provides the paddle.
This piece is on loan from Jay and Toni Garland, who lived in Barrow, Alaska from 1960 to 1962. It is on display in the library case as part of “Natives of the Americas” until January 11.