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.

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