An ex­hibit at the Mu­seum of In­dian Arts and Cul­ture ex­plores Apache his­tory.

Native American Art - - MUSEUM EXHIBITONS - By Iris Mclister

An ex­hibit at the Mu­seum of In­dian Arts and Cul­ture tack­les Apache his­tory.


For many years, Apaches—and many Na­tive American tribes for that mat­ter—have been as­so­ci­ated with war and pil­lag­ing. At Life­ways of the South­ern Athabaskans, a new ex­hi­bi­tion at Santa Fe, New Mex­ico’s Mu­seum of In­dian Arts and Cul­ture, vis­i­tors will find nary a tom­a­hawk on view; one can how­ever, ex­pect to dis­cover intricate wo­ven bas­kets, cer­e­mo­nial robes and well-loved dolls. On open­ing night, cu­ra­tor and MIAC’S ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor Joyce Be­gay-foss in­tro­duced her­self as a mem­ber of the Navajo Na­tion, and said she had a deep cu­rios­ity about other tribes; it makes sense then that she found her­self at the helm of a show as thought-pro­vok­ing as Life­ways of the South­ern Athabaskans. Be­gay-foss ac­knowl­edged the word “Athabaskan” is one most of us are largely un­fa­mil­iar with. Athabaskan is some­thing of an um­brella cat­e­gory that in­cludes over 50 di­alects, which, though unique, share char­ac­ter­is­tics stylis­ti­cally and con­cep­tu­ally. Athabaskan lan­guages are spo­ken by in­dige­nous peo­ple in Ore­gon, Alaska and the Cana­dian Yukon, among other ar­eas, but this ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cuses pri­mar­ily on more re­gional, South­west­ern tribes. By ex­plor­ing th­ese con­nec­tions, the Life­ways of the South­ern Athabaskans acts not only as a vis­ual dis­play but also as an ed­u­ca­tional, an­thro­po­log­i­cal en­deavor.

“The most in­ter­est­ing part of this ex­hi­bi­tion,” says Be­gay-foss, “was work­ing with dif­fer­ent tribal con­sul­tants from Ji­car­illa, San Car­los and Mescalero. They told me in­for­ma­tion that I would never have learned even by do­ing re­search on cer­tain ob­jects or tribal com­mu­ni­ties.” Many items on view have never been pub­licly shown. Par­tic­u­larly strik­ing were a pair of what looked like large, open-sided cloth moc­casins. Th­ese were horse hoof cov­er­ings, which would ob­scure the clip-clop­ping give­away of a stolen horse, muf­fling tracks and sounds so the theft would go un­de­tected. “The show came about be­cause I was con­cerned about the lack of in­for­ma­tion in schools or text­book ma­te­rial

about the Apachean groups,” ex­plains Be­gay-foss. “In aca­demic and his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments the Apachean his­tory is por­trayed in a very neg­a­tive con­text. Most vis­i­tors and school groups that come to the mu­seum know maybe a few Pueb­los, Navajo and very few know about the Apaches. “

The show is ori­ented around ar­ti­facts, or what Be­gay-foss calls “ma­te­rial cul­ture” from the 19th cen­tury, dur­ing a pe­riod when the Apache tribe was largely no­madic, hunt­ing and for­ag­ing in the harsh en­vi­rons of the South­west. In­stead of or­ga­niz­ing ar­ti­facts ac­cord­ing to tribe as­so­ci­a­tion, Be­gay-foss grouped things to­gether based on what they were used for and by type. With sen­si­tiv­ity and el­e­gance, Life­ways of the South­ern Athabaskans deftly demon­strates its sub­jects’ deep re­la­tion­ship with the nat­u­ral world. Large-scale, black-and-white pho­to­graphs serve as dra­matic back­drops for a range of ob­jects, from small purses to ar­rows. Along­side cer­e­mo­nial at­tire, elab­o­rately dec­o­rated man­tels and heav­ily beaded

leg­gings are more poignant ar­ti­facts, like well-loved dolls and an es­pe­cially tiny pair of green-beaded moc­casins.

Homes were in­ge­niously de­signed to be portable or else en­tirely dis­pos­able. Ji­car­illa and Mescalero Apache used an­i­mal hides to make teepees, while the Chir­ic­ahua in­stead con­structed tree branch and mud huts called wick­i­ups. Homes were built by women, a some­what sur­pris­ing di­vi­sion of la­bor be­tween the sexes, un­til you learn that Apache tribes have largely ma­tri­lin­eal fam­ily struc­tures—women were hugely im­por­tant to the weft and weave of the tribe’s dayto-day life. One of the most be­guil­ing as­pects of the show was the de­tail and or­na­ment ap­plied to things we might con­sider ev­ery­day—such as a brightly col­ored, metic­u­lously beaded knife sheath. Pat­tern­ing on a man’s work shirt in­cor­po­rated es­o­teric sym­bols: loosely de­picted stars and moons and swirled, as­tral-like forms.

“As the cu­ra­tor,” Be­gay-foss notes, “I wanted to por­tray the Apachean groups based on their ma­te­rial cul­ture and call at­ten­tion to their lan­guage and life­ways. I am glad to have been given this op­por­tu­nity to cu­rate the ex­hi­bi­tion, and I hope vis­i­tors come away with a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Apachean peo­ples.” It’s no small feat to put on a show of this scale and du­ra­tion; for Be­gay-foss, the most chal­leng­ing as­pect “comes down to fund­ing and also the type of ob­jects that are in our col­lec­tions. It also takes a team ef­fort from the other de­part­ments within the mu­seum sys­tem to come to­gether and make ex­hi­bi­tions hap­pen.”

1. Chir­ic­ahua Apache quiver, ca. 1886, brain tanned leather, glass seed beads and flan­nel wool cloth.

Gift of Mr. Grover B. Minser 44379/12. Photo by Ad­di­son Doty. Cour­tesy Mu­seum of In­dian Arts and Cul­ture.

2. Mescalero Apache moc­casins, ca. 1860-1900, buck­skin, beads, yel­low ochre. Cour­tesy of John and Linda Com­stock and the Abi­gail Van Vleck Char­i­ta­ble Trust 1705/12. Cour­tesy Mu­seum of In­dian Arts and Cul­ture.

3. Dana B. Chase (1848-ca. 1920), Apache run­ner, New Mex­ico, ca. 1884-92. Cour­tesy Palace of the Gov­er­nors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), Neg. No. 110506.

6. Mescalero Apache Bur­den Bas­ket, ca. late 19th or early 20th cen­tury, wil­low and tin tin­klers. Cour­tesy of John and Linda Com­stock and the Abi­gail Van Vleck Char­i­ta­ble Trust 23255/12. Cour­tesy Mu­seum of In­dian Arts and Cul­ture.

5. Ji­car­illa Apache women’s cape, ca. late 19th or early 20th cen­tury, deer­skin, bone beads, brass bells, glass seed bead, ochre dye and sinew. Gift of He­len Blu­men­schein 7461/12. Cour­tesy Mu­seum of In­dian Arts and Cul­ture.

4. Carl Werntz (1874-1944), White River Apache woman dress­ing young girl’s hair, Ari­zona. Cour­tesy Palace of the Gov­er­nors Photo Ar­chive (NMHM/DCA), Neg. No. 037417.

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