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Week of April 27th: Director's Letter

Week of April 27th: Director's Letter

A Message from Shelby Tisdale

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

I hope my message this week finds you well and staying safe as the Center of Southwest Studies remains closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are planning a number of ways to stay virtually connected as we continue to work from our homes. In the meantime, I thought I would share another story about one of my past experiences with you.

In the early to mid-1980s I was the Assistant Collections Manager at the Indian Arts Research Center (IARC) at the School of American Research (renamed the School for Advanced Research) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. One of the other staff members, Lucy Fowler Williams, who is now the Associate Curator and Senior Keeper of American Collections of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and I went to Pueblo Feast Day dances every chance we got. We knew a lot of the artists from the different pueblos and we would often be invited to their Feast Days to attend the dances and to come to their homes to share a meal. These Feast Days and the relationships that developed with the artists and their families were the highlight of my working at the IARC.

One time, Lucy and I went out to the Hopi Mesas in Arizona to see a Katsina dance. In July we learned that a Niman Ceremony was coming up so we headed out on Friday after work and drove out to Hopi Second Mesa. We didn’t have any money for a hotel room so we pulled up behind the Hopi Cultural Center and put our front seats down, covered up with our sleeping bags, and went to sleep. Just as dawn was breaking we drove out to the village of Shongopovi. There we got out of the car and waited in the chill of the morning for the activities to start. I recall smelling coffee and hearing the hushed murmurs of people as they were getting ready for the first dance of the morning.

As the sun rose a little higher on the horizon a line of Angak’china (Long Hair) Katsinas came up over the hill on the east side of the village. They carried cattails or corn stalks with katsina carvings attached in one hand and gourd rattles in the other as they entered the village. We were so immersed in watching the Katsinas we didn’t notice that the Hopi families had brought out their chairs and were sitting around the plaza waiting for the Katcinas to arrive. Lucy and I found a spot to stand behind one of the families and watched as the Katsinas danced around the plaza to their rhythmic singing accompanied by the sound of their rattles. Periodically, one of the Katsinas would stop by a family and give a young female child the cattail or cornstalk with the Katsina carving attached. The Katsina carvings (often referred to as dolls) are given to young, uninitiated girls to learn about the different Katsinas. They are not to be used as toys.

When the first dance of the day ended Lucy and I went to the Hopi Cultural Center Restaurant where we treated ourselves to the best blue corn pancakes in the world. We then returned to see more of the Katsinas dancing. In the early afternoon we started our five-hour drive back to Santa Fe where we arrived home exhausted but exhilarated by what we had witnessed that day.


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