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Blog by Helen Brooks, Director, Leadership Giving, School for Advanced Research

July 13 dawned hot and steamy in New York City, but that didn’t stop a small SAR delegation from hanging out on Fifth Avenue to admire the giant Grounded in Clay banner that had just been hung on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, replacing the predecessor Van Gogh banner. Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery was officially open on the national stage. SAR President Michael F. Brown and I were on hand to participate in the opening and connect with New York-based supporters of SAR. (A larger celebration is being planned for October.) News conference remarks by Met CEO and Director Max Hollein, Associate Met Curator Patricia Marroquin Norby, and Michael Brown acknowledged that Grounded in Clay is the first community-curated Native American Exhibition at the Met. The exhibition gives voice to the Pueblo Pottery Collective, the sixty Native American curators who selected and wrote about works in clay from SAR’s Indian Arts Research Center and from the Vilcek Foundation.

SAR President Michael F. Brown

It is fitting that the Met podium stood next to Nambé potter Lonnie Vigil’s remarkable and beloved large micaceous pot from the IARC collection, famously built on his kitchen table, which beckons visitors to the exhibition. Thanks to beautiful lighting, that and other works in the Met exhibition sparkle and shine.

Painted murals at the gallery entrance bring a reminder of New Mexico to the American Wing at the Met, where approximately sixty pueblo pottery works are on display. For those of us who experienced the inaugural installation at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, it was like visiting old friends who are travelling, and you are happy to see them doing well in new surroundings.

Grounded in Clay at the Met. Photo by Joanna C. Lee

New to the exhibition are colorful two-dimensional works commissioned by the Met from curators Mateo Romero and Michael Namingha. Both artists were in New York for the opening events where Michael Brown recognized Mateo as an SAR artist fellow alumnus and Michael as an incoming artist fellow this fall.

Grounded in Clay at the Met

While about half the Grounded in Clay pots can be found at the Met, the other half are presented at the Vilcek Foundation, less than a mile down Fifth Avenue. The SAR team ended the day at the Vilcek Foundation, enjoying the intimate, two-story display, which is open to visitors by appointment. Among the exhibition’s design highlights are floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows that have been transformed with graphic images from pueblo pottery.

Grounded in Clay at the Vilcek Foundation
Grounded in Clay at the Vilcek Foundation
Grounded in Clay at the Vilcek Foundation

The creativity of the installations makes each exhibition unique. What binds them together are the narratives, written or spoken, provided through the Pueblo Pottery Collective. Audiences from around the world will experience those voices via the beautiful catalog (now available at the Met and the Vilcek Foundation), the documentary video, the written display narratives, and the inventive QR codes at the Vilcek Foundation that connect each display to audio and video content from the curators.

Grounded in Clay will be in New York until June of 2024. The exhibition then travels to Houston, followed by Saint Louis. Visit groundedinclay.org

Helen Brooks Director, Leadership Giving School for Advanced Research