Bennington Center for the Arts
Native American Art at Bennington Center for the Arts
The world is the American Southwest, whose canyons, mesas, and high deserts have been the home of the Navaho, Hopi, and Zuni peoples for more than five hundred years. As guests move through the Center's galleries, the bold geometric designs of Navaho weaving, the graceful forms of Pueblo pottery, and the exotic Kachina dancers of the Hopi people convey the richness and mystery of their native cultures. These varied collections are complemented by the Center's collection of Southwestern landscape paintings, depicting the sacred ancestral homelands of the artisans; the Grand Canyon and Canyon de Chelly in northern Arizona, the spires and mesas of Monument Valley, and the pueblo house-cities of New Mexico.
"We're very proud of the Navaho weavings," says BCA Gallery Director Elizabeth Small. "This collection is one of the most comprehensive in the country. The rugs and blankets come from all regions within the Navaho Nation, and we have examples of most of the historical patterns and well-known weavers." Indeed, some of the blankets date to the 1890s, while others were made during the 1990s. The energy of a desert thunderstorm seems to crackle through many of the pieces, woven in traditional styles such as "Storm Pattern," "Whirling Logs," and "Eye Dazzler."
The Zuni and Hopi pueblos of New Mexico produce the mysteriously, finely painted pottery, made from the warm orange clay of the Four Corners region. As Elizabeth Small wonders, "How can such exquisite bowls be created from earth, powdered stones and yucca brushes in a dung fire?" The only possible answer is surely, "Practice!" Some of the best potters, usually women, have been working at their craft for 30 and 40 years, learned from their mothers and grandmothers before them.
The Kachina figures, carved in Cottonwood root and other woods and brightly painted by the Hopi artisan, also transmit a mysterious energy. These supernatural spirit beings are believed to act as intermediaries, bringing rain, plentiful harvests, and harmony from the gods to the Hopi people. Dancers impersonate these beings by taking on the Kachina spirit's mask and costume, and by performing its unique song; these ceremonies bring the Kachina's blessings into the Hopi village. Each carved figure depicts one of these dancing spirits, and is often presented to a Hopi girl by her father or uncle. The BCA's collection of some 50 Kachinas ranges from the Eagle and Snake Dancers to the Mud Head Clowns. Whether frightening, graceful, or comical, they show the variety of emotional connections of the Hopis to their unforgiving and beautiful land.
The Native American collections are on display at the Bennington Center for the Arts throughout its Fall exhibition season, which opens September 25 and concludes October 17, 1999. Visiting exhibits of wildlife art, the paintings of nationally-known women artists, and "plein-air" landscape painting complement the permanent exhibits.
Images from top to bottom: BCA Gallery, Photo by Hubert Schriebl, Vermont Magazine; Pottery with Parrot Figure, Acoma Pueblo; Weaving, Storm Pattern, Navajo Nation; Eagle Dancer Kachina, Hopi Nation
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Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.
This page was originally published in 1999 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.
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