The Vilcek Foundation has partnered with the School for Advanced Research to develop a new exhibition, Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery. The exhibition features works from the Vilcek Collection and from the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research (SAR). Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery opens July 31, 2022, at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture situated on the traditional lands of the Tewa people, O’gah’poh geh Owingeh (White Shell Water Place), or Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The exhibition was curated by the Pueblo Pottery Collective, a group of more than 60 Native American community members from the 22 Pueblo communities in the Southwest. The collective was established as an initiative of the Indian Arts Research Center and SAR in 2019 to engage community members in the development of this exhibition.
The collective is a diverse group that includes potters, designers, and other artists, as well as writers, poets, community leaders, and museum professionals amongst themselves.. Members of the collective selected and wrote about the 116 pieces from the collections of SAR and the Vilcek Foundation that comprise Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery. A small number of non-Pueblo museum professionals worked as facilitators and writers for this project, and are also part of the collective.
Grounded in Clay shifts traditional exhibition curation models, combining individual voices from Native communities where pots have been made and used for millennia into a uniquely Indigenous group narrative. The approach illuminates the complexities of Pueblo history and contemporary life through the curators’ lived experiences, redefining concepts of Native art, history, and beauty from within, confronting academically imposed narratives about Native life, and challenging stereotypes about Native peoples.
Curator Joseph Aguilar writes, “Grounded in Clay emphasizes the underlying, multifaceted, and nuanced understandings that the Pueblo Indian people of the American Southwest have of one of the more ubiquitous and resilient forms of our material culture—pottery…. Historical memories and our understandings of pottery and other cultural patrimonies are tantamount to a form of Indigenous intellect—a physical, spiritual, and intellectual worldview that is inextricably linked to land, people, and history.”
At the Vilcek Foundation, President Rick Kinsel worked with Curator Emily Schuchardt Navratil and Seamus McKillop on the coordination of the exhibition in partnership with Elysia Poon, Indian Arts Research Center Director at SAR, and with the community curators involved in the development of Grounded in Clay. Kinsel has steered the development of the foundation’s collection of Native American pottery since 2000; he describes the development of Grounded in Clay as a transformative experience.
“Our foundation is based in New York, on the unceded land of the Lenape people, and we acknowledge the sovereignty of Native American peoples is a present and ongoing concern,” he says. “By engaging curators from Native American communities in the development of this exhibition, we hope to provide a model for other cultural institutions in supporting the autonomy and independence of Native American nations.”
Following the exhibition at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery will travel through 2025, starting with a joint presentation in New York City by the Vilcek Foundation and the Metropolitan Museum of Art from July 13, 2023 to June 4, 2024.