The Rededicated Galleries
Two permanent Southwest Museum exhibitions feature the Native Voice
Yadhira De Leon
?Your environment teaches you how to live. You live within your environment unless you alter it.? ? Barbara Drake, Gabrielino/Tongva
Published on LatinoLA: March 3, 2005
On Saturday, January 22, 2005, the Autry National Center rededicated two galleries at the Southwest Museum of the American Indian?the museum?s first remodeling in 20 years. "People of the Southwest: Changing Traditions" and "People of California" trace the history of Indian cultures through the diverse objects they have created. Throughout, Native voices describe the adaptation and continuance of traditions in the Southwest and in California, home of the largest urban American Indian population in the nation.
"The People of California"
Native peoples have lived in California for at least 10,000 years and still live here today. California Indians came to this area for the same reasons people continue to come here: for the climate, natural resources, and room to expand. In fact, people have been harvesting the wild bounty of California for thousands of years. Its plentiful resources include grasses, seeds, root crops, nuts, cactus, land mammals, birds, fish, sea mammals, shellfish, minerals, and raw materials such as obsidian and steatite.
When the first Europeans arrived in Alta California in 1542, California Indians lived in about 60 tribal areas. Each tribe was divided into smaller bands of extended family members. These tribes and bands spoke more than 100 languages or dialects. They generally lived in groups of small villages. The communities each had different traditions and ways of doing things, but they also shared common activities such as moving to gather seasonal resources, managing their environments to enhance natural resources, and making many types of baskets for daily use.
Starting in the mid-1700s, rapid, often violent colonization disrupted California Indian life. Under the Spanish, Mexicans, and European Americans, American Indians suffered starvation, forced labor, disease, and military rule. Native populations declined drastically. Although people adapted to new ways of life such as herding cattle and using new plants, they did not abandon their traditional beliefs, many of which continue today.
Along the Southern Coast, people took advantage of the rich sea resources and established semi-permanent villages. On the other hand, the limited resources of the Desert and Mountain areas could not support large concentrations of people. They lived in small groups that were almost constantly on the move. Central California cultures depended on acorns to support large village populations while the dependable resources of Northwestern California?s rivers and streams allowed for a large population.
"People of the Southwest: Changing Traditions"
This exhibition traces the history and adaptation of the cultures of the Southwest through the area?s art.
Early cultures, such as the people of the Colorado Basin (Anasazi), decorated their baskets and other cultural materials with elaborate designs and symbols. The designs added beauty to the pieces and served to create cultural identity. As early as 1000 BC, these people moved away from a nomadic lifestyle and settled in permanent villages to farm. Eventually, art traditions shifted from the production of portable baskets to pottery. The pots were also richly decorated, but like the baskets, they remained a tool for everyday use.
When the Navajo and Apache moved into the Southwest from Canada, they brought along their own art traditions. However, they also borrowed designs and styles from the Pueblo people. The Navajo, in particular, worked closely with Pueblo artists and learned the finer points of weaving. The Apache became known for their fine basketry and hide cut-work.
Native art traditions were also dramatically affected by the Spanish, who were the first Europeans in the area. They introduced silversmithing, which the Navajo adopted and soon excelled at, creating ornate concho belts and jewelry. The Spanish also brought with them religious objects related to Christianity. Many Pueblo artists created their own interpretations of these objects.
The openings of the Santa Fe Trail in 1821 and the Santa Fe Railroad in 1880 brought an influx of Anglo-Americans looking to experience Southwest culture. A cash economy emerged wherein artists created works that appealed to these new tourists and collectors. The demand for souvenirs and collectibles dramatically affected the size, shape, and design of traditional arts.
Today, Native artists of the Southwest continue to mix traditional designs with new media to create innovative art forms.
View the permanent installation of "People of the Southwest: Changing Traditions" and "People of California" at the Southwest Museum, located in Mt. Washington at 234 Museum Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Admission is $7.50 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and $2.50 for children 2-12.
Yadhira De Leon:
Visit the Southwest Museum of the American Indian online at www.southwestmuseum.org.