Exhibition at the Bruce Museum traces the history of the Navajo weaving tradition
GREENWICH, CONN.- The Bruce Museum is presenting A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition traces the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest Mexican-inspired Saltillo serapes, c. 1880, to mid-20th century pictorial rugs. Featuring a dozen items from the Museum’s Native American ethnographic collection – some of which have never been publicly exhibited – the exhibition is on display in the Bantle Lecture Gallery through November 25, 2018.
Navajo rugs are unique because their warp (the vertical strings on a loom) is one, long continuous piece of wool thread. Once the warp is set on the loom, the size of the rug cannot be altered. This weaving method requires the weaver to plan the design and pattern of the rug to fit precisely into the predetermined length of the rug.
The ability to conceive and execute two-dimensional designs in extraordinary patterns and colors set Navajo weavers apart from the creators of other Native rugs and blankets. Knowledge of this traditional process is an important cultural tradition that has been maintained through intergenerational instruction and mentoring despite the obstacles of displacement, discrimination and isolation experienced by the Navajo Nation.
“The Najavo textile collection at the Bruce is extensive enough to illustrate the history of the weaving traditions and varied enough to demonstrate the artisanal skill of the weavers,” says Kirsten Reinhardt, Museum Registar and the organizer of this exhibition. “Each piece is an extraordinary example of artistic creativity and technical execution.”
The Navajo were first recognized as the finest weavers of small horse blankets, placed under saddles to protect the horse, after the Spanish introduced both sheep and horses to the American Southwest in the mid-1500s. Influenced by Pueblo weavers, the Navajo then made large blankets which were prized throughout the Southwest and across the Great Plains for their quality as outerwear. Later, trading post economics led to a transition to rug making, a tradition that remains strong today.
The items on display are from the collection of Miss Margaret Cranford (1887 – 1974), a resident of Greenwich. At the age of 21, Miss Cranford began a lifelong pursuit of traveling across the United States and the world, collecting fine decorative art, jewelry, and textiles.
“The Bruce is indebted to the generosity of Miss Cranford,” says Reinhardt. “Her collecting trips to the American Southwest in the early 1930s generated gifts that are the foundation of our ethnographic collections, in both quality and number. Personal letters, maintained in the Museum’s archive, demonstrate her passion and respect for all things Native American and help to frame her collecting strategies. We hope our guests find meaning in her dedication to identifying and preserving Native American traditions.”
Exhibition focuses on the aesthetics and significance of African beadwork
ZURICH.- With Bead Art from Africa the Museum Rietberg presents an exhibition on the aesthetics and significance of beadwork, thus, for the first time, allowing women artists to take centre stage.
Overlooked by art history for a long time, women play the key role as creators of beadwork in African art. The beadwork produced by women in the eastern and southern parts of the continent takes on the shape of figurative art in West Africa. Viewing the designs and techniques reveals how much creativity and skill goes into making these filigree objects.
Whether dealing with extravagant ornaments, impressive masks, or royal stools – the exhibition unfolds the vast scope and ingenuity of bead art in East, South and West Africa. However, glass beads never served merely decorative or ornamental purposes; the colours and designs also convey intricate messages about age, gender, and identity of the persons wearing the pieces.
The glass beads that reached Africa from Europe embody early globalization. As from the 17th on they were produced specifically for the African market in places like Venice, Amsterdam and Bohemia. Women also played a key role in the manufacture and trade of glass beads. However, glass beads always meant more than simple trade goods or means of payment.
In a gradual process of cultural appropriation, the new materials were endowed with a unique aesthetics of their own and charged with symbolic meaning, taking their cue in parts from existing artistic techniques such as body painting, mural art, and weaving. Thus, glass beads stand for both innovation and tradition.
With the Mottas collection, an undisclosed treasure trove has found its way to the Rietberg Museum which both adds to and enhances the existing Africa collection. Grouped into different thematic fields, the exhibition sheds light on the design and uses of African bead art. Old beadworks dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries are juxtaposed with contemporary positions from South Africa.
The first section “Interwoven Worlds” sheds light on the history of production and the worldwide trade of glass beads. One of the highlights is a map of the world indicating global trade routes. To create the map, the bead designers Anna Richerby and Laurence Kapinga Tshimpaka from Cape Town relied on more than 350,000 glass beads produced in the Czech Republic.
The focus of the next two galleries, “Colour and Design” and “Lines and Surfaces”, is on how beadworks are able to communicate messages with regard to age, gender, and identity. Here oral traditions, so important in African cultures, are translated into physical shapes and materials. While among the Zulu and Xhosa peoples of South Africa the interplay of colours is striking, in East Africa the difference between the delicate designs of the Maasai people and the more planar style of the Kamba immediately captures the eye.
Beads and ornaments, as so many other materials, repeatedly undergo transformations and aesthetic modification. The section “TransFORMations” addresses, on the one hand, bead traditions from southern and central Africa which have emerged from art forms such as body painting, plaiting and weaving. But then again, textural changes are also encountered modern fashion design. Labels such as MaXhosa by Laduma, for instance, gather inspiration from old beadworks, while the internationally renowned South African designer Laduma Ngxokolo takes colours and patterns from traditional Xhosa ornaments and transforms them into new materials, as his modern knitwear collection goes to show.
The section “Figurative” touches upon a further aspect of bead art, namely, bead-decorated masks and sculptures. In this case beads give expression to social, religious and political relationships between the various classes in a society. Thus, beads not only signify the negotiation of gender but also stand for the lavish splendour used to celebrate royal power and rule. An impressive example is the bead-decorated royal stool from the kingdom of Bamum in Cameroon.
On the basis of historical postcards, the exhibition also shows how, in the West, glass beads were seen as being “typical” hallmarks of “traditional” Africa, without ever acknowledging the extent of innovation and exchange that was going on. In his project Native Work, the South African photographer Andrew Putter examines the dehumanizing and exoticizing properties of early ethnographic photography.
Showcasing beadworks from South Africa and other regions in Africa, the exhibition presents some ninety highlights from the collection recently donated to the museum by François Mottas. One of the characteristic features of his collection is the focus on small glass beads, so-called seed beads. Over the last thirty years, the passionate collector has assembled and carefully documented a collection of nearly 400 pieces.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Scheidegger & Spiess and edited by Michaela Oberhofer, with contributions by François Mottas, Nanina Guyer, and Daniela Müller; 176 pages, ca. 130 figures.
John Molloy Gallery
19th Century American Indian
Garments and Accessories
October 4 - November 10, 2018
Opening Reception: October 4, 6-8 PM
October 4-6, 2019
This landmark exhibition in the Museum's American Wing will showcase 116 masterworks representing the achievements of artists from more than fifty cultures across North America. Ranging in date from the second to the early twentieth century, the diverse works are promised gifts, donations, and loans to The Met from the pioneering collectors Charles and Valerie Diker. Long considered to be the most significant holdings of historical Native American art in private hands, the Diker Collection has particular strengths in sculpture from British Columbia and Alaska, California baskets, pottery from southwestern pueblos, Plains drawings and regalia, and rare accessories from the eastern Woodlands.