Going native at UVA

After several weeks of pop art sci-fi (the Westerman prints) and decidedly literary byproduct (prints by Blake, paintings by Dos Pasos), the University of Virginia Museum of Art goes out west for an exhibit of Southwestern Native American art. The exhibit, “Treasures of the Earth,” culls work from all over the Arizona/New Mexico/Utah region of the country, and in doing so, samples just about every major tribe located there: Pueblos, Zunis, Hopis, Navajos, and Utes.
A small, odd exhibit, “Treasures” is neither a wholly natural history museum-style artifact display nor is it wholly an exhibit of tradition-influenced folk art. But straddling, as it does, the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, it combines elements of both.
The older stuff on display has an unpolished (figuratively and literally) and functional look. In one example, a polychrome jar dating from sometime in the late 19th century shows obvious signs of having been created by traditional methods. In this case, it was coiled by hand, shaped, polished with stones, and fired in a small pit.
Design motifs common to a great deal of the work represented in the exhibit are in evidence here: a near obsession with symmetry, repeated shapes, and images of animals. Next to some of the more modern ink black jars, however, its fading earth tones and wobbly, hand-drawn designs give this jar a fairly crude look. If it’s safe to assume that this jar was actually created for functional reasons (storage), then the black jars imply just the opposite.
They’ve been signed by the artisan who created them (not a common attribute for rainwater containers) and sport a sleek, etched look and clean, tight designs. Still, as the repetitive feather pattern around the lip of one jar shows, there is plenty of stylistic continuity.
Also be on the lookout for some impressive silverwork, blankets— again with symmetry, geometry, and bold lines— and table coverings in among the rest of the near-recent Native American artwork.

The University of Virginia Art Museum exhibits “Treasures from the Earth: Art of Southwestern Native America,” through June 9.  Opening reception on Friday, April 5, 5:30-7:30pm. Rugby Road. 924-4298.

Read more on: UVA Art Museum