Monday, August 2, 2010

Saw and Heard

Once again, I'm going back to Arizona to tell of a trip to one of the more internationally known museums for Native American history and art. The Heard Museum. Just to give a quick background, the museum was originally built as a mansion for a wealthy couple. The Heards. Actually the husband married into money; is wife being the daughter of the family that opened and still owns Ace Hardware. They moved to Arizona for the husband's health, and ended up becoming a patron of sorts to the native peoples of the region. The Pueblo, Pai, Navajo, Hopi, Apache, and others I'm sure I'm forgetting. Arizona is a desert, and most people are amazed at how many native peoples inhabited this arid and seemingly barren area. I'm not so surprised, but I think that has to do with my own background of being a docent for a Natural History museum. The training for which was intensive, and thorough. My brain is still crammed with knowledge, such as before the Spanish arrived in CA, there were 800 distinct dialects (this means that the languages had diverged and remained separate for several thousand years) spoken by native peoples in CA alone. I can't begin to imagine how many there would be if you factored in for the rest of the country. AZ was obviously no different in diversity.

I digress. The Heards decided to leave their entire estate, and extensive Native American items collection to the Native Americans of Arizona. Inside their mansion is housed one of the finest collections of pottery, arts, dolls and other things of that nature in the world. And having been there, I can tell you that this is not a case of gradeurized boasting. The collection is extensive, especially where pottery is concerned. Much like a car museum, you can see just about every make and model from ancient to recent, from every tribe that had anything to do with carrying something in some form. Other rooms offered exhibits on famous Native American Artists, such as Allan Houser whose work I really enjoyed. I would not mind getting a reproduction of some of his works (best way to see some of his work, is to use Google Images search). Another room was filled to capacity by Hopi Katsina (kahts ee nah) dolls of every type that I'd ever seen, and some I'd never seen before. They're beautiful, whimsical, solemn, frightening, and altogether powerful as they represent benevolent spirits who visit the Hopi twice yearly. Generally they are the spirits that bring the rain, and are given into the care of the little girls until they're around 10 years of age. Please don't take this as gospel, as I'm dragging up possibly misheard information from a tour I took nearly three weeks ago.

On the second floor there is a room dedicated to the American government's attempt to "educate" the Native Peoples. For those of you who don't know, this was the work of a combination of good christian ethics (sighs. Some of the worst events in history have been done because someone thought God wanted them to.) and money/land hungry government and business people. Basically schools were built (they called them schools, but they were more like military boot camp.) for Native American children, which were in many cases ripped from the arms of their family, loaded onto trains like cattle and shipped off to parts unknown. I wish I could say they weren't treated like cattle, but they were. Their clothing was taken from them, their braids were shorn, and then kerosene was poured on them because obviously they must have lice. (never mind that they almost certainly didn't because of the way they cared for their hair) They were also beaten or reprimanded if they spoke their own language. America stopped the practice in 1960s, which in itself is sort of appalling given we're supposed to be one of the most accepting and tolerant of differences, although I still meet extremely small minded people from time to time. Most of these schools are gone, and only two still operate, and only because they're the only school close enough for the kids to get to. Needless to say the curriculum and treatment has changed dramatically. This room really brings it all home though, because the stories of these kids, now grown and elderly, tell of their experiences of being forced from their family, their home, the train ride, the schools... Made me sick, and then angry. I don't have a high tolerance for blatant stupidity.

It's a beautiful museum, and it is a must see if you ever go to Phoenix, AZ. Just don't expect a terribly friendly reception. This was my interpretation at least of going there, but maybe they were just having bad day. All of my museum experiences in Phoenix were strange come to think of it. One was closed. Another was way more money than I was expecting, and not what I would've paid for once I got inside. Too many exhibits were broken, inoperable, or simply closed. It's sad to see museums being run like roadside tourist traps, which is essentially what they were. I must be spoiled. I'd never had that experience before, but then most of the museums I'd been to were in CA, and while CA is NOT doing well by any means, the museums were/are ... fun, inviting.

At the Heard museum I had the unpleasant notion that I was seen as a thief. Leave large backpacks at the door lockers, wear your purse around your front so we can see it, don't take pictures if you intend to use a flash.... By the time they got done with all the rules, I felt guilty just standing in the lobby. And I took maybe 4 pictures inside before I stopped, because one of the staff was there staring at me. "I wasn't using the flash." I said quietly. The woman stared at me for about 15 seconds (trust me, 15 seconds is a LONG time) before saying,"Good." Then she walked off down the hallway. I'm not normally intimidated, but by the time I left I felt like hiding in a corner and crying for a while. My friends didn't seem to have the same feeling, but then again I didn't tell them that we were followed through the whole place by at least one staff member, and not always the same one. The gift shop was nice. I mean Tiffanys nice, and way the hell out of my price range. I didn't get anything, but my friends got a bracelet and some CDs.

So, there are really only two pictures I took. One because I loved the artwork on the pottery, and the other because it got a rare smile out of me on an otherwise nerve wracking experience.

I'll apologize now for the photo, because of the poor quality, but I was shaking a bit when I took it because I had someone drilling holes in my back as soon as I took out my camera. This is Pueblo pottery style, with a painting of who I think is a representation of Koshari the Clown. The Pueblo and Hopi share many of the same spirit legends, so its not unusual to see him on pottery, but Koshari is usually seen as a Hopi Katsina. Koshari was a spirit joker of sorts, like Coyote is in other Native American cultures. He taught social traditions through tricks and humor to keep the peace in the community. I've seen him before, but I hadn't known his name until now. He was always one of my favorite characters in paintings and carvings.
This one had me smiling. If you can't tell what it is, its another piece of pottery by a Pueblo artist and this one must be quite recent. Its a Harry Potter bowl! I guess everyone really DOES love Harry Potter. In it you can see Harry's broom and suitcase. The car that Ron Weasley crashed, Mad-Eye Moody's all seeing eye, and the escapee toad. There was even more chuckling because of 'Potter', pottery, etc. But I thought this was cute, and this made me feel a little better for a while. A really little while, because this was the last picture I took before I put my camera away for the rest of the excursion.

I would love to go back and really look everything over when I'm by myself, and perhaps when the staff isn't quite so... attentive. Everything about this place was beautiful. Balsa wood wraps the walkways, and walls, providing very few hard edges to the place. It is dark though, sort of like the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, Ca. Dark, with well lit exhibits. I used to go there with my grandpa when I was little. We'd go every time my grandmother went to have her hair done while I was visiting, because it generally took her an hour. I can't remember how many times I went through there, but there was always something new to see, and it was quiet. It's another place I'll have to go back to. :)

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