Crafting Lives in the Americas
Curated by Dr. Guy David Hepp (lead curator), Ana Yesenia Mendoza Sanchez, Dr. Russell
Barber, and Dr. Frannie Berdan
24 May 2017 – 9 December 2017
Anthropologists studying the Americas have traditionally assumed that there is a strong division between households and public spaces.
According to this perspective, domestic areas and the activities occurring within them are relatively private. Given that the activities done in domestic spaces are often assumed to be “women’s work,” the labors of women have been seen as spatially and socially
segregated to this secondary, “hidden” context.
But these assumptions may reflect our own ideas more than those of indigenous peoples. Archaeological and historical research suggests
that Native American women have had important community roles. Whether or not they are associated with homes, the influences of “domestic” crafts (such as pottery, cooking, making figurines, and weaving) have long influenced the public sphere. While the evidence
tells us that such crafting often is the work of women, it is our interpretations of the meanings of such labor that need to change.
In this exhibition, we explore material products of women’s crafting from the American Southwest and Mesoamerica.
As you learn about women’s work in these regions, consider how their labor contributes to economies. What roles has crafting played in diverse social and spatial contexts? Have our own ideas about gender and the domestic versus public spheres of social life
led us to misrepresent the past?
From Flesh to Clay: Figurines and Identity in Mesoamerica
During the Archaic period (7000–2000 BCE), ancient native people of Mexico and Central America were mobile foragers. They grew a few domesticated plants such as corn and squash, but they did not rely on those foods for their diet.
Around 4000 years ago (2000 BCE), Mesoamerican populations began to undergo major cultural changes that impacted their settlement patterns, diet, and social organization. This time — from 2000 BCE to 250 CE — is known as the “Formative” or “Preclassic” period. This era was marked by the establishment of Mesoamerica’s first permanent villages and by several technological innovations, including the advent of pottery. Ceramics included not only vessels for cooking and storage, but also for making musical instruments, masks, statues, and figurines.
Archaeologists working in Mesoamerica frequently recover figurines, or small clay artifacts often shaped to resemble humans. The dress, hairstyles, jewelry, and body positioning of these figurines reveal information about gender and identity. While we cannot reconstruct what was in the minds of people living through major social changes like the Formative period, these artifacts suggest to us that people were negotiating their new, perhaps unsettling social landscape through depiction of the human form.
Puebloan Pottery in the Southwest: An Evolution Over Time
The pueblo peoples are a group of Native American tribes that have lived in the norther and eastern portions of the American Southwest for thousands of years. Their villages were and are characterized by masonry architecture with many rooms attached to one another, called pueblos (villages) by the Spaniards. Puebloans before the Spanish Conquest had distinctive tribal names for themselves, but none of these are known today, so archaeologists refer to them collectively as “Ancestral Puebloans” — sometimes divided into Anasazi and Mogollon traditions. Modern Puebloans have such tribal names as Hopi, Acoma, San Ildefonso, and Laguna. This section of the exhibition explores the evolution of Puebloan pottery, beginning with the pre-ceramic
ancestors of the Puebloans and continuing through today. It will reveal how this craft has been interwoven with subsistence, economics, and politics over time.
Weaving Threads of Change: Indigenous Mexican Textiles
Tenacity, adaptation, and creativity are common themes in Mexican culture and history. These themes are vividly expressed in textile production – from the ancient past to modern times. Weaving was and still is carried out by women within their own households. But the impact of this craft extends far beyond the home.
These three sections each offer a snapshot of the history of Mexican textiles over the last 500 years – starting with the Aztec period (around the year 1500), continuing through the Spanish colonial period (around the year 1600), and into the present day (around the year 2000).
As you journey through history, be on the lookout for changes and similarities in materials, production techniques, styles, and the use of cloth over time. Consider also how this “domestic craft” has played a role in politics and economy over time.