Students Learn From Indigenous Pottery, Basket Donation

Photo of anthropologist Victor Ramirez
Victor Ramirez, a Highlands anthropology graduate student, examines a Hopi pottery piece that was donated to Highlands. Photo: Rick Loffredo/University Relations


Las
Vegas, N.M. – Anthropology students at New Mexico Highlands are learning
first-hand about Indigenous Southwest pottery and baskets, thanks to the
generosity of two sisters.

Margaret
Hermann and Kathleen Walz have donated their mother’s collection of Southwest
Native American pottery and baskets as well as Guatemalan Mayan huipiles, embroidered women’s blouses,
to the Highlands anthropology program.   

“I
donated these items I inherited from my mother, Lenore Walz,’ collection
because I felt like a caretaker and wanted them to have a permanent home,”
Hermann said. “I also felt a responsibility to return them to their place of
origin in the Southwest.

“I
chose New Mexico Highlands University because Dr. Orit Tamir in anthropology
had a vision of how to use the collection as a teaching tool for her students
and the Las Vegas community. My mother wanted the pottery and basket pieces to
be used and appreciated, rather than locked away in storage or in a museum,”
Hermann said.

Hermann
also donated more than 100 books to Highlands from her mother’s personal
library on Native American history and anthropology.

Tamir,
a cultural anthropology professor at Highlands, said the Highlands anthropology
program uses the new collection to teach students how to track the “DNA,” or history,
of a piece of pottery or basket.

“Most
of the current collection is likely from the Santa Clara, Acoma, Hopi and San
Ildefonso pueblos, and the baskets are Tohono O’odham and Akimel O’odham in
origin,” Tamir said. “The Guatemalan textiles that will be donated soon open the
door to study tribal textiles, the importance of design for village identity,
Mayan women’s co-ops, and more.”

Tamir
said the Highlands anthropology students are learning to distinguish among tribal
styles in the pottery and baskets.

“They
are also learning to track materials and the natural dyes the different tribes
use, symbolism, and so on. It’s thrilling to have such a generous donation that
allows our Highlands anthropology students to have hands-on learning
experiences that one cannot gain from books or other sources” Tamir said.

Tamir
said the donated collection was also used to teach students how to prepare it
for exhibition in an art gallery.   “Our Highlands
anthropology students used the donated collection to contribute to a Native
American art exhibit in the university’s Ray Drew Gallery in Donnelly Library
in October 2018.”

Margaret
Hermann said that “Watching the students discuss the artifact that they studied
at the Ray Drew Gallery reception gave me pure joy, and also confirmation that our
mother’s dream was fulfilled.”

Tamir
said Victor Ramirez, now an anthropology graduate student, did an excellent job
in 2018 of tracking the provenance of one piece of pottery, discovering that it
was misidentified. Ramirez, 50, a native of Las Vegas, New Mexico, was an
undergraduate in anthropology and sociology at the time.

“Victor’s
excellent research uncovered significant information about the pottery,” Tamir
said.

“When
I first started looking at the pottery, I was told it was probably from the
Santa Clara Pueblo because it’s black like traditional Santa Clara pottery,”
Ramirez said.  “However, up0n further
examination, I noticed some different colors. Then, when I turned the pottery
over, there was a design signature on the bottom.”

Ramirez
said his research on the “frog woman” signature led him to determine it was
created by Joy Navasie, a Hopi woman.

“Joy
Navasie, who was born in the late 1800s, is one of the most famous Hopi-Tewa
potters,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez
said his research on the pottery inspired him to attend graduate school at
Highlands. “With my undergraduate anthropology concentration in American Indian
studies, the discovery of this pot’s origin convinced me to learn more about
Southwest studies and anthropology. Dr. Tamir encouraged me throughout my
studies and helped me believe in my academic potential.”.