SchoolArts Room

Tradition, Transition, and Transformation: The Indian Arts Research Center

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Apr 12, 2017

As an art teacher living in New Mexico, I am most interested in the artistry and aesthetics of work made by the Pueblo Indians. This includes sharing with others the reasons that it was made and the differences between work made for ceremonial or sacred purposes and that intended to be commercial. I think it is important for people to know how and why the objects in the collection  of the Indian Arts Research Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, were made to fully appreciate and respect the culture of Pueblo communities.


Pueblo Pottery Fund 1
 
 
What is now the collection of the Indian Arts Research Center (IARC) began as the Pueblo Pottery Fund in 1922 when a  Zuni Ashiwi Polychrome pot was broken at a party in 1922. Its breaking (and repairing) motivated the group of art patrons (such as Elizabeth Sergeant, Elizabeth White, Mabel Dodge, and artist Andrew Dasburg) present to began acquiring pots to save for posterity.  Two years later, the initial collection was renamed as the Indian Arts Fund as its scope widened to include baskets, textiles, paintings, and other art categories. The Indian Arts Fund Members were also instrumental in establishing the first Southwest Indian Fair, forerunner of today’s Santa Fe Indian Market.       

 
 
Nowadays, the Indian Arts Research Center is part of the School of Advanced Research (SAR). Founded in 1907 by Edgar Lee Hewett, SAR is a non-profit center for study in American Indian Arts, Humanities, and Anthropology. The collection’s purpose was to maintain and preserve the collection while giving Native artists, scholars, and the public access to the best examples of their tribal arts. The result today is an amazing collection which might or might not exist otherwise.                                                
 
 
The arrival of the railroad in 1880 was important in developing tourism in New Mexico, with beautiful advertisements offering the accommodations of Fred Harvey's Houses and the grandeur of the scenery accessible via the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway’s spur line to Santa Fe. The coming of the railroad created a market for Pueblo handmade goods for tourists, collectors, and museum markets, especially for smaller pieces easier to pack. Selling to tourists and collectors allowed potters to earn an income to support their families and Pueblos, and to purchase modern goods such as appliances and tools, while trade also spurred competition among the makers.
 
 
When I look at the pottery that fills the first vault, I see the individual hands of the people who made them. Each object has its own story to tell. Clay is the essence of Mother Earth to the Pueblo people and each piece has a living spirit. In this open storage research collection, primarily from the 19 pueblos in New Mexico, the work continues to serve as a research collection to provide inspiration and opportunities for teaching and learning. Native people can come any time to research the work from their ancestors or relatives. Scholars also come to learn about the more than 12,000 pieces in the collection. 
 
Pueblo people, for the most part, never left or lost their ancestral lands. They have always been where they are now. Though there are similarities, each pueblo is distinct, with varying cultural traditions, creation stories, languages, and more. 
 
Public tours of the IARC are given by appointment all year round, and tours of the SAR grounds are given during the summer. Since its purpose is conservation and research, the objects are arranged with preservation in mind on open shelves, unlike a museum display. If you find yourself in Santa Fe, I invite you to come experience the collection.