Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Various beaded items from the MRM and Couse collections
Note the large tab bag in the upper left has only been half cleaned to demonstrate the difference before and after conservation work
We recently opened a new exhibit at the museum, Crossing Paths: Beadwork from the Millicent Rogers Museum and E. Irving Couse Collections, and like many of our special exhibits, this show highlights artworks from our permanent collection.  This year marks the MRM's 60th anniversary, and we have taken this opportunity to pull works from the collections vault that have not been exhibited for decades (if ever!).  Crossing Paths focuses on the history of beadwork in northern New Mexico, which, unlike the majority of our collection of baskets, weavings, pottery, tinwork, and carved Santos, is an art form not typically associated with the Southwest.  However, the history of beadwork in the region is really quite fascinating.  The diverse community of Taos, New Mexico has acted as a center for cross-cultural interactions and exchange for centuries, if not longer.  Before and after the arrival of the Spanish into the region, Taos Pueblo was a significant center for trade between the Pueblo communities to the south and the tribal nations of the Plains to the north.  In addition, several Native nations from Oklahoma and Texas have ancestral ties to northern New Mexico, and have historically interacted and traded with the Indigenous communities in and around Taos.  Prior to the introduction of glass trade beads, or what is commonly seen on historic clothing from the broader Plains region, Native Americans adorned buckskin clothing with beads made from natural materials, such as porcupine quills, stone, shell, and clay.  Ongoing exchange with Europeans, beginning in the sixteenth century, brought new materials to incorporate into clothing, and the progressive influx of colonists and settlers increased trade connections throughout the world.  By the early 1800s, glass trade beads from Czechoslovakia and Venice had reached Native communities far into the North American continent well in advance of European and European-American settlers.  By the late 1800s and early 1900s, Anglo-traders had entered the scene, and the introduction of the Santa Fe Railway in the Southwest and their train cars full of curious tourists brought a substantial market for any and all Native American-made products, such as beadwork.  In previous posts, I noted that I used to work at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, and we collaborate with them and several other local non-profits regularly.  (I have discussed the importance of collaboration in our most recent newsletter and in previous blog posts.)  I spent three months completing conservation work and  cleaning each and every bead in the majority of the Couse collection of beadwork with a Q-tip (or perhaps I should say several thousand Q-tips!).  Many of these works from the Couse collection are paired with beaded items that were collected by Millicent Rogers' youngest son and the founder of the MRM, Paul Peralta-Ramos.  Working so closely with these objects allowed me to really appreciate and understand the level of skill, quality, beauty, and variety of techniques in beadwork.  Can you blame me for wanting to show them off?

Pump drill from the Couse collection used in the Santa Fe Railway calendar pictured behind it

Beaded cradles from the MRM and Couse collections,
special thanks to Chelsea Herr for cleaning the rather large cradle on the left

Beaded buckskin dresses, saddlebags, and shirt from the MRM and Couse collections

Fully beaded moccasins from the MRM and Couse collections

Julian Martinez's beaded wearing blanket given to Paul Peralta-Ramos

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