Pseudo-Ceremonial Pots and Zuni Collection Reviews

The presence of about fifty “pseudo-ceremonial” pots in the Indian Arts Research Center collection today speaks to the complex ways that museum objects can reflect the various wishes of collectors and also how meanings surrounding an object shift through time, depending on the interpreter. Pseudo-ceremonial pots were created by Zuni potters in the early twentieth century to cater to the desires of museum collectors who wanted pottery that was spiritual, old, and had ritual significance.

Pseudo-Ceremonial Bowl (3-D)Pseudo-Ceremonial Bowl (3-D)Zuni, b. 1929
Clay and paint
IAF.1280
Stereo photograph by Jason S. Ordaz. Request 3-D glasses or build your own (PDF, 315 KB).
Pseudo-Ceremonial Bowl (3-D)Pseudo-Ceremonial Bowl (3-D)Zuni, b. 1929
Clay and paint
IAF.1280
Stereo photograph by Jason S. Ordaz. Request 3-D glasses or build your own (PDF, 315 KB).
Pseudo-Ceremonial Bowl (3-D)Pseudo-Ceremonial Bowl (3-D)Zuni, b. 1929
Clay and paint
IAF.1280
Stereo photograph by Jason S. Ordaz. Request 3-D glasses or build your own (PDF, 315 KB).
Pseudo-Ceremonial Bowl (3-D)Pseudo-Ceremonial Bowl (3-D)Pseudo-Ceremonial Bowl (3-D)
Pseudo-Ceremonial Double Jar (3-D)Pseudo-Ceremonial Double Jar (3-D)Zuni, b. 1929
Clay and paint
IAF.1277
Stereo photograph by Jason S. Ordaz. Request 3-D glasses or build your own (PDF, 315 KB).
Human Figure (3-D)Human Figure (3-D)Zuni, b. 1915
Clay and paint
IAF.2447
Stereo photograph by Jason S. Ordaz. Request 3-D glasses or build your own (PDF, 315 KB).
JarJarZuni, b. 1890
Clay and paint
IAF.2239
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
Pseudo-Ceremonial Double Jar (3-D)Human Figure (3-D)Jar
These four decorative pottery pieces were included as part of the Zuni Collection Review. IAF.1280 was made like a water medicine bowl, but it is not a true ceremonial bowl. According to Jim Enote and Octavius Seowtewa from Zuni, “true ceremonial bowls would not have a frog in the center of a bowl or have external attachments such as the rattlesnake tail. The hip bulge on the side of the pot also indicates it could not be used in ceremony.”

Museum workers, and therefore their collections, were often informed by the “Noble Savage” viewpoint that art created by Natives before contact with other cultures were more authentic than art created after this period. This paradigm, however, is a Western myth, since many Native communities had complex systems of trade and adaptation long before European contact. These Zuni pots were not used for special ceremonies nor were they old, but they were made to look that way. 3-D GlassesRequest 3-D glasses or build your own (PDF, 315 KB)Potters created works based on older designs and often gave the pots a patina to create the illusion of age. Perhaps selling these pots allowed Zuni people to protect their own cultural traditions while also assuaging the collectors’ desire for “ritual” art.

Beginning in 2009, the Indian Arts Research Center and cultural representatives from Zuni began meeting to conduct collection reviews of the material identified as “Zuni.” All the images in this section were part of this process. The reviews have been a crucial step in understanding Zuni interpretations of art and forming community links with Zuni, since many artists and other community members come in search of information and to view the collections.



In this video, Jim Enote, director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center at Zuni, New Mexico, and Ocatavius Seowtewa, Zuni cultural advisor, discuss the difference between a fetish and a carving. Video recorded and edited by Gloria Bell.

For example, in the featured video, Jim Enote, director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center at Zuni, New Mexico, and Ocatavius Seowtewa, Zuni cultural advisor, discuss the difference between a fetish and a carving. In an email following the review, Enote further explained the importance of this differentiation:

“Maybe there should be discussions about the unwritten understandings and misunderstandings between Zuni medicine people and some Zunis selling ‘fetishes.’ Most older Zunis making ‘fetishes’ know they are not selling a true Zuni fetish but younger people may not really know. We shouldn’t sell real Thładakwe that have been blessed by a medicine man or medicine woman or higher religious person. The prayers given to the Thładakwe among many things mention the owner’s name and clan. If the Thładakwe is sold it cannot give power and blessings to another person. It was made and blessed specifically for the person requesting it or to whom it was specially given to. However, any discussion about making ‘fetishes’ for sale will require a pragmatic understanding of the Zuni economy and livelihoods of artists, specifically Zuni ‘fetish’ carvers. And we haven't even begun to address the ‘fetishes’ being made for the market by non-Zunis.”

Bear CarvingBear CarvingLeena Boone (Zuni), b. 2005
Crystal, turquoise, coral, spiny oyster shell, olivella, artificial sinew
SAR.2005-20-142
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
Bear CarvingBear CarvingLeena Boone (Zuni), b. 2005
Mother of pearl, coral, turquoise, artificial sinew, olivella
SAR.2005-20-141
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
Bear CarvingBear Carving

Collection reviews also allow for staff to implement the proper care for objects, to be aware of culturally sensitive material, and to conduct proper procedures for interpretation and research.

There are also many pieces in the collection donated by tourists to the Southwest who collected art as mementos of their time in the Southwest. Tourism continues to draw art collectors every year to this region and provides an important source of revenue for artists at events such as the annual Indian Market in Santa Fe. For more information about tourism and Native arts, visit Indians 4 Sale: Using Culture as a Commodity. The lizard pot and human figure are two examples of pottery created for the tourist market.

BowlBowlZuni, b. 1929
Clay and paint
IAF.1280
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
BowlZuni, b. 1929
Clay and paint
IAF.1280
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
BowlBowlZuni, b. 1929
Clay and paint
IAF.1280
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
BowlZuni, b. 1929
Clay and paint
IAF.1280
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
Double JarDouble JarZuni, b. 1929
Clay and paint
IAF.1277
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
Double JarZuni, b. 1929
Clay and paint
IAF.1277
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
FigureFigureZuni, b. 1915,
Clay and paint
IAF.2447
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
FigureZuni, b. 1915,
Clay and paint
IAF.2447
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
3-D Glasses3-D Glasses
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