Barnes Foundation Unveils First-Ever Native American Art Exhibit

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This spring, the Barnes Foundation presents Water, Wind, Breath: Southwestern Native Art in the Community, a major exhibit of historic and contemporary Southwestern Native art, including Pueblo and Navajo pottery, textiles, and jewelry. Exploring living artistic traditions that promote individual and community well-being through their making and use, this exhibition is Barnes’ first dedicated to Native American art and is on view at Roberts Gallery from February 20 to May 15, 2022.

Co-curated by Lucy Fowler Williams, Associate Curator in Charge and Jeremy A. Sabloff Senior Keeper of American Collections at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, and Tony Chavarria (Santa Clara Pueblo), Curator of Ethnology at the Museum Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe, Water, Wind, Breath: Southwestern Native Art in the Community features approximately 100 works, including objects that Dr. Albert C. Barnes collected in New Mexico in 1930 and 1931, as well as works by contemporary Native American artists that highlight connections between historical pieces and modern practices .

“It’s a fitting show to kick off Barnes’ centennial year and the tenth anniversary of our home in the heart of Philadelphia, as it exemplifies what we strive to accomplish through our exhibit program: to provide experiences engaging educational opportunities and scholarship that explores our collection and resonates with our history,” says Thom Collins, Executive Director and Chairman of the Neubauer Family.

Dr. Albert C. Barnes first traveled to the Southwest for the health of his wife, Laura. On their first trip in 1929, the couple were greeted in Taos, New Mexico by American patron Mabel Dodge Luhan and her Pueblo husband, Tony Lujan, who introduced them to artists and activists who defended the rights of indigenous to the land and to religious practices. Archival correspondence reveals Dr. Barnes’ relationship with figures who influenced his collection, including artist Andrew Dasburg and archaeologists Kenneth Chapman and Jesse Nusbaum (then director of the Museum of New Mexico), as well as prominent dealers in the region. In a letter to French painter Henri Matisse, Dr. Barnes wrote of the harmony, religious earnestness, and communal nature of a winter Pueblo stag dance he attended.

“Each section of this exhibit examines stories and ideas that Dr. Barnes and other non-Indigenous visitors to the Southwest probably did not know, but which influenced the lives of Indigenous peoples and the materials, forms and design of objects. of art they admired and collected,” say Lucy Fowler Williams and Tony Chavarria. “One of our goals with this exhibition is to discover the importance of the ongoing generative practices of these arts in the contexts of their communities of origin, where they have adapted and quietly continued over generations, despite countless challenges. These art forms endure today as material expressions that mark meaningful connections to places, stories and life forces, and their creation and recreation binds, connects and renews the essential relationships that nurture health and individual and community well-being.

The exhibit is organized into five main sections – evoking the four cardinal directions surrounding a central dancing plaza – including Pueblo pottery, Navajo weaving, silver jewelry making, and Dr. Barnes’ experiences in the Southwest. A final section examines the importance of Pueblo dancing as a sustainable practice essential to community health and well-being.

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