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mimbres pottery-part 1

updated fri 31 may 96


Rick Janssen on sun 26 may 96

Hi All -- A couple of weeks or so ago, I posted a message to CLAYART
an exhibit of Mimbres Pottery in Minneapolis. Since then, I've had a
number of requests for more information. First off, I don't live in
Minneapolis and I will not be able to visit the exhibit myself.
Therefore, I don't have much information to give.
However, the Minneapolis Star Tribune featured an article on the
exhibit so I will post it on CLAYART for everyone who inquired about
the show. It is a fairly long article, so I am posting it in three
parts. I hope the following information will be useful.

Laid to rest 1,000 years ago by Mimbres Indians, excavated by
University of Minnesota archeologists, these bowls hold mystery,
controversy and beauty.

By Mary Abbe, Staff Writer
Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sunday, April 14, 1996; Pages 1F, 10F.

When the Mimbres people put their dead to rest 1,000 years ago in
a remote desert valley in what is now southwestern New Mexico, they
tucked them into niches under the earthen floors of their homes.
Very often, they covered the faces of the dead with beautiful
bowls painted on the inside with exuberant dancing figures, hunters
and their prey, playful insects, fanciful animals, mythological
creatures and geometric designs that suggest the lightning-slashed
mountains, dry hills and undulating streams they saw all around them.
When archeologist excavating Mimbres settlements in the 1920s and
'30s encountered these lovely artifacts, they were struck by the
harmony and balance the pots depict: a world of eternal oppositions
and delicate counterpoint, black lines on white background, male and
female, mountains and valleys, rain and drought, night and day, life
and death.
Attracted by the pots' mysterious orgins and inherent beauty,
collectors and scholars have pounced on Mimbres artifacts, especially
since the 1977 publication of "Mimbres Painted Pottery" by J. J.
Brody. An art historian based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Brody has
collaborated with other scholars on a new show of Mimbres material
that opens today (April 14, 1996) at the University of Minnesota's
Weisman Art Museum.
Because University archeology teachers and students excavated an
important Mimbres site between 1929 and 1931, the Weisman has one of
the two largest, most coherant collections of Mimbres ceramics in the
world. (The other is at Harvard University.) Its new show, which will
feature about 150 bowls selected from some 800, is the first display
of the university's Mimbres material since 1935.

Cross-cultural issues: complements, conflicts
The exhibition and its thoughtful catalog explore the cross-
cultural issues that surround Mimbres artifacts. To contemporary
artists, designers, collectors and scholars, Mimbres pots are not
only sophisticated designs but a source of insight into a harmonious,
nature-dominated culture foreign to our own bustling, contentious
"I think we get a window into the intellectual quality of these
ancient people from the paintings on their pottery," said Brody.
"I grow up in Brooklyn, New York, and saw my first Mimbres pots at
the Brooklyn Museum in about 1948 or 1949 -- and I still remember
them. But it was a puzzle why they strike this responsive chord in
people who are so removed from the culture that produced them. It's
as if these creations allow us to know another way of life and to be
reminded of alternatives."
Still, Brody and other scholars are grappling with whether it is
appropriate to display -- or even to preserve -- objects originally
intended as intimate gifts to the dead.
"My personal view is that I would put them back in the ground,"
said Rina Swentzell, a Santa Clara Pueblo Indian who is a potter, art
historian and scholar-in-residence at the School of American Research
in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Swentzell, who once studied art history with Brody, was invited
to help curate the Weisman's show. She had seen Mimbres pots in
museum displays, but it wasn't until she actually touch some Weisman
pieces that she felt their power. She decided that she couldn't
continue working on the show, but she did write an essay for the
catalog and will participate in a discussion today.
"I withdrew from participating in the exhibition because I felt
it was too sensitive for me," Swentzell said. "But I wasn't going to
impose my sensitivities on other people, and I felt that one way I
could particpate was in talking about what I felt the Mimbres world
view was, and why people would bury such fantastic pots."