Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Heard Museum

The Heard Museum is in Phoenix, Arizona which was the last stop on our road tour.  The Heard, was founded in 1929 by Dwight and Maie Bartlett Heard, when Phoenix was a small town of under 50,000.  Today there is a population of over 1.4 million.  Their goal was to show the heritage of the indigenous people of the Americas but there is a very heavy emphasis on the Indians of the Southwest. Their collections are incredibly comprehensive for Native American Arts of this area.

The Heard itself is set in a series of low connecting buildings with archways and red tiled roofs.  It feels like a large hacienda, with the bookshop an excellent and large sales gallery for Native American objects, a restaurant and a café.   Then, of course, in the much larger space, the main house, are the exhibition galleries that flow nicely one to another.

The introductory gallery by itself is worth a visit.  There is a well-spaced selection of masterpieces from different tribes emphasizing that these are living cultures by juxtaposing historic examples and major contemporary works.   There is a bowl by both Iris Nampeyo (ca. 1860–1942) and her daughter Fannie (1900-1987), the famous Hopi potters.

There are a vase and bowl shaped pots by Margaret Tafoya (1904-2001) and her mother Sara Fina Tafoya (1863-1949) a famous potting family from Santa Clara Pueblo.

A multi-figure ceramic by Santa Clara sculptor Roxanne Swentzell (b.1962) whose work is in the Denver Art Museum, The National Museum of the American Indian and many others, represents a family group. It is titled “Tse-ping” which translates as belly button. The artist writes, “In the Tewa world, the bellybutton is the center of the world. Each pueblo has a bellybutton…. in the middle of the plaza….. It is reminding us of where we come from, from the earth.  In Tse-ping the bowl is the center of the earth“.

Figures important to the Southwest are brought together in a painting by David Bradley, a Chippewa who specializes in interpretations and depicting real and fictitious characters.  Here is his painting with identifications of the characters.  How many do you recognize?  Don’t miss “The Ghost Riders in the Sky”.

We collect Hopi Katsina dolls  and the Heard has more than I have ever seen in one place partially because Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona bequeathed his large collection to them. That was an unexpected eye opener for me.  Here is just one wall of this display.

Silver is also well represented.  Almost every important Hopi, Navajo and Zuni  silversmith is included. There is so much to learn in this museum where the rich permanent collection is presented in such a visually appealing and accessible manner.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nampeyo : Namingha – Tradition & Transition

The next stop on our road trip was Flagstaff, Arizona and the Museum of Northern Arizona.  It is one of the most important museums for Indians of the Southwest.  It sits at a virtual crossroads of the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi.  Every year the museum does a fair for each of the tribes individually.

The feature exhibition that I had especially wanted to see was “Nampeyo: Namingha - Tradition & Transition.”  Last summer, we were invited by the director of the Museum of Northern Arizona, Robert Breunig, to come to a reception at the home of Philip M. Smith in Santa Fe.  He collected works of art by Dan Namingha a painter and his sons, Arlo a sculptor and Michael a photographer.  Dan’s great great grandmother was the most famous Hopi potter of all time known as Nampeyo.  Many of her descendants are also well thought of potters.  It therefore made sense to collect their work as well.

Iris Nampeyo (ca. 1860–1942), known simply as Nampeyo was responsible for the revival of the style of pottery excavated by the archeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes in 1895 at Sikyátki, a site that had been occupied by the Hopi from the 14th through the 17th centuries.  Nampeyo grew up at Hopi on First Mesa in the Tewa Village.   In her own words,  “When I first began to paint, I used to go to the ancient village and pick up pieces of pottery and copy the designs. That is how I learned to paint. But now, I just close my eyes and see designs and I paint them.”  This is one of her Sikyátki revival jars, circa 1910 from the collection of the Museum of Northern Arizona.

In addition to the restaurants and hotels that Frederick Henry Harvey (1835–1901) developed along the railroad lines the Harvey Company promoted “Indian Detours” to teach the Eastern tourist about the Native Americans of the Southwest and built Hopi House at the Grand Canyon.  Here Nampeyo demonstrated and sold her works in 1905 and 1907,  slowly but surely becoming the first celebrity Indian potter.

The exhibition at the Museum of Northern Arizona shows the tradition of her  family and their transition to the contemporary world.  The exhibition was in honor of a large donation that Philip M. Smith was making to the Museum of Northern Arizona as part of an eventual bequest.  Most of the exhibits are from Mr. Smith’s collection.  Although Mr. Smith attended the opening, he passed away shortly after, and the Museum will receive more of his collection sooner than expected.

As usual, I have picked a few favorite pieces from the 44 works in the show, one by each artist. This is one of my favorite Native American forms, the Wedding Vase by Nampeyo’s great-grand daughter Dextra Quotskuyva, circa 1980, from the collection of Arlo and Nicole Namingha.

Dan Namingha, who is Dextra’s son, uses Hopi design but paints more abstract images.  Here is one called “Desert Moon”, 2006, from the Phillip M. Smith collection.

Native photography is fairly new in that the little we left the Native Americans with, they were not eager to share. They do not permit outsiders to photograph their villages and ceremonies but we are beginning to see photography by Indians with images that relate in non-obvious ways to the native experience.  Michael Namingha’s  photos are think pieces where you can guess what the artist had in mind or just make up your own story. I love this called “What Was What Could be (Voyeur)”, 2012, Museum of Northern Arizona.

One of the most effective works in the show is a sculpture by Arlo Namingha called “Sandhills”, 2008, Philip M. Smith collection, which captures the desert mesas and the life circle behind the walls of Hopi villages.

Why did Philip Smith leave his collection to a museum in Flagstaff instead of one in Santa Fe where he lived?  I can only surmise that it was because he knew the director and saw for himself what a good job he did. Flagstaff is also close to the spiritual heart of Hopi, as in the Hopi religion the San Francisco peaks, that dominate the town, are home to the Katsina Spirits that bring blessings to the people. What more appropriate place to celebrate the artistic blessing of a Hopi family.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


During a recent road trip we paid a visit to the Sky City Cultural Center that houses the Haak’u Museum at Acoma Pueblo.  We had been given an introduction to the director, Emerson Vallo, by one of the curators of their current exhibition of Masterpieces of Acoma Pottery, Landis Smith. She is a conservator from Santa Fe who had been with the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. for over a decade. For this exhibition she worked with other members of a curatorial committee which included Brian Vallo, the brilliant first director of the Haak’u who was instrumental in the design of their great building which opened in 2006.  Others on the committee were Stephanie Riley the young curator, a member of the Acoma tribe who has a degree in Anthropology as well as Museum Studies, Melvin Sarracino, also Acoma, the  “museum specialist” who has stepped in and run the museum whenever there was a gap in the leadership, and in an unusual step, an Anglo trustee, David Rasch who lent many major pieces to the show.

Their guide for the exhibition was an exhaustive catalog on Acoma pottery researched and written by Dwight Lanman, former director at Winterthur, and Francis Harlow, a theoretical physicist.  The loans came mostly from the School of Advanced Research and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe as well as the private collection of David Rasch. The pots range from 950 A.D. to modern times and much of the work is amazingly exacting and precise.

Of course, the hope of any exhibition is to entertain and educate visitors. This  show had a special  purpose as there are many ceramic artists who work at Acoma today. Landis Smith explained, “Our goal was to bring important Acoma pottery back to the pueblo - for the community as well as to educate the public.” She remarked on the number of artists who came to the opening, and saw “pottery made in the old ways” where there were no shortcuts.

Though photography is generally not permitted Emerson Vallo allowed me to take some for this missive.  This vitrine is of the earliest pieces in the show and come from the Haak’u’s collections.

The museum occupies two large rooms in the Cultural Center but the  building itself is really inspirational, even without knowing its derivation.   As Landis says, “it incorporates elements of Pueblo architecture, values and art.” The four cardinal directions, have special significance to each tribe and here windows to the north, south, east and west frame the incredible rock formations around the pueblo.  Even the roofs are “decorated” with their traditional ladders and a few large chimney pots.  The Architect, Barbara Felix of Santa Fe clearly studied up on the tribe and it's traditions guided by the director at the time, Brian Vallo.  The quality of materials in the building is first rate including the wonderful wood furniture with carvings derived from Acoma pottery.  Ms. Felix has on her website a mission statement which most of the time anyone in a certain field can say but hers, as I can testify, is right on having had the experience of seeing this example of her work first hand:  “We create Woven Architecture™ by integrating each client’s project vision, beliefs, and stories with the elements of light, material and space. The result manifests a unique sense of place having deep personal meaning and cultural significance.”
Photo Credit: Jennifer Esperanza

Emerson Vallo, the director of both the museum and the Cultural Center, holds three advanced degrees, one of which is in management.  He was formerly a research analyst in the air force working on flight simulators for fighter pilots.  He has lots of plans for development beyond building the collection of Haak’u pottery and other art that shows the history of Acoma.  On the second floor of the Cultural Center is a small library with many empty shelves just waiting for donations.  Since the tribe has always been involved with the issue of water rights, a major concern in the southwest, they expect many volumes regarding their battles.  Vallo looks forward to digitizing what cannot be physically put into the library. Besides developing tourism, he is actively working on attracting corporate retreats equipping his auditorium, classrooms and conference room with the latest technology.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

William Zeckendorf, Jr. (1929 - 2014)

We went to a Memorial Service for William Zeckendorf, Jr. the New York builder and developer who had moved to Santa Fe where his ancestors had come before. During the talks from all his friends, family and business partners I realized in how many ways he had touched my life though I had only met him once.

As I may have mentioned here before my best friend in grade school was T’ing Pei the eldest son of I.M. Pei.  I remember when T’ing came to school very excited -  we must have been in 6th or 7th grade at the time and announced that his father had won first prize at the Brussels World’s Fair.  I really did not know what that meant at the time but I knew that his father was an architect because I had stayed at his country house which his father, of course, had built and it was very contemporary.

At that time Pei was working for William Zeckendorf.   At the service, his son Will referred to Pei as his father’s in-house architect which, of course, he was.  Will went on to say that Pei had given his father an appreciation for quality architecture.

I also was aware of the Zeckendorf name as head of the board of trustees at Long Island University which I attended before going abroad and then to Columbia University.

The next time the Zeckendorf name touched my life was a direct invitation from the man himself for my father and me to have lunch with him.  Believe me, when I tell you, we were totally mystified.   We were served a very nice lunch which, if I remember correctly, was served on a platform raised above his office with a great view.  Not that we really had a chance to see the view as Mr. Zeckendorf was so intense.  We soon learned his objective.  He wanted to buy the apartment of a client of ours, Anita Young, the widow of Robert R. Young, the railroad magnate. My father and I looked at each other, what did we have to do with this?  Mr. Zeckendorf had the idea of making an offer on the apartment with its furnishings (very fine French 18th century pieces, many of which had come through our hands) and sell the collection to help offset his cost. Until I heard all the tributes at the Memorial Service, now probably 30-40 years later, I did not fully appreciate this minor intrigue.  What he might not have realized was that Mrs. Young had estates in Newport and Palm Beach and had no intention of selling the furniture.

 As an aside, one day when I asked Mrs. Young whether she might be interested in seeing some of our French 18th century paintings, she replied that she was quite content with her sister’s paintings.  Her sister was Georgia O’Keeffe.

Of course, the reason that the Memorial Service was in Santa Fe is that Zeckendorf has been living here for more than twenty years and he and his wife, Nancy, have done untold wonders for this town.  His lawyer, who worked on the deal to build the Eldorado Hotel here, told us of the problem they had as to where they wanted to locate the hotel.  It seems that it was too close to a church to be able to obtain a liquor license.  Bill Zeckendorf’s solution… move the church.  This turned out to be of a double benefit to Santa Fe.  Not only was the church pleased with the move to a location with much needed parking space, but   the building  that took its place is today the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum!

One of our great loves in this town is the Lensic Performing Arts Center, an old movie palace which Bill and Nancy renovated into a state of the art theater giving Santa Fe a venue for theater and dance as well as simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera and London’s National Theater.  For us as two New York transplants who love the arts, it is a great quality of life benefit.

Bill loved music and Nancy gave him full credit for the Lensic but it was clear that without her as lead fund-raiser, and the brilliant impresario, Bob Martin, whom they enlisted from the start, it would not have happened.  I am sure that Bill saw the benefit of having a performing arts center within one block of his grand hotel, the Eldorado.  Just like with Mrs. Young’s apartment he could see an issue from many different sides.

One more connection with the Zeckendorf family is that Bill’s son Will came into our New York gallery on a number of occasions with a keen interest in the arts of France, so I got to know another generation of Zeckendorfs.