Crafting Hopi Identities at the Museum of Northern Arizona

Part of the One World Archaeology book series (WORLDARCH)


The Hopi of Northern Arizona are renowned for their arts, particularly katsina dolls, pottery, silver overlay jewellery and basketry. Hopi objects began to enter museum collections and curio markets in large numbers in the 1880s, and have made their way into museums all over the world, by means of galleries, traders, collectors, tourists and individual commissions. The Hopi collections at the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) are unique because MNA has long taken an active and collaborative role in developing Hopi arts. In the 1930s, MNA curators suggested new jewellery techniques to Hopi artisans; they also supported traditional basketry and textile styles and promoted both revival and innovation in pottery making and katsina doll carving. Hopi artists accepted some of the Museum’s suggestions but developed each art form in their own directions. Over time, the Museum’s role has shifted from one of paternalism to one of collaboration including education, production, marketing and research that focuses on Hopi history and cultural values. Study of MNA collections and associated documentation, and discussions with Hopi artists, show that Hopi art emphasizes the makers’ social identities at many levels – ethnic group, village, clan, membership in ritual associations, gender and age. Sometimes these identities are clearly signalled and can be ‘read’ once a viewer learns how to recognize them; sometimes they are apparent only when information about objects’ individual biographies has been recorded. Presenting the internal diversity of Hopi identities to the public, and preserving this record of diversity for future Hopi generations, is especially challenging in the museum setting.

Museum of North Arizona and the Hopi Tribe

All art has a tendency to degenerate – to go downhill; it needs jacking up and practical encouragement. This is just the movement we are trying to start; we have no desire to step on anyone’s toes. We are scientific and artistic; not commercial (Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, 1930, letter to museum trustees in Colton 1930a, Allen 1984: 69).

On the 5th and 6th of July 2008, the Museum of Northern Arizona hosted its 75th Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture. This event began in 1930 as the ‘Hopi Craftsman exhibition’ (no shows were held during the war years, 1943–1946). Museum founders Harold Colton, a biologist, and Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, a professionally trained artist, wanted to encourage the survival of Hopi arts and crafts (see Mangum and Mangum 1997: 69, 76–77). Early on, the Coltons focused on encouraging Hopi artisans to produce pottery, textiles and baskets for sale to tourists, traders and MNA. They soon turned their attention to jewellery, then katsina doll carving and painting. Attending the festival is now a tradition in Hopi families; many artists who attend today remember coming to the festival as children. The Museum of Northern Arizona thus has a unique relationship with the Hopi Tribe (although many indigenous communities in North America have stopped using the term ‘tribe’, the Hopi use the term in their official name).

Before detailing MNA’s long relationship with members of the Hopi Tribe, I will explain where this small, regional museum fits in a larger context of relationships between Native American communities and museums in North America. The Coltons founded MNA in the 1920s in a conscious effort to counter the dominance of large museums based in the eastern United States, such as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Chicago Field Museum. By the 1920s, these and many European museums had engaged in 50 years of ‘salvage ethnography’ and archaeological excavations that removed hundreds of thousands of objects from the Southwest and shipped them far away where most local people, European-American and Native alike, would never see them. The Coltons, and other wealthy immigrants to the region such as Harold Gladwin, who founded Gila Pueblo in central Arizona and William Fulton, who established the Amerind Foundation in southern Arizona, began to conduct scientific research and collect objects for the benefit of their local communities and the nation. They intended for objects and knowledge to stay close to their sources; researchers and tourists would come to them. But like the distant behemoths they wished to challenge, MNA and the others operated under European-American frameworks of scientific knowledge, ownership and control. These paradigms contrast significantly with indigenous views which are based in inherited and earned rights to proprietary knowledge and accompanying responsibilities for correct use and transmission of knowledge (Isaac 2007). All these museums collected sacred objects as well as objects of everyday use, made photos and recordings of religious activities and wrote down descriptions of ceremonies that should neither, in the Native view, have been fixed in permanent media nor removed from their source communities. Karen Coody Cooper (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) writes, ‘Some people say American Indians should be grateful to museums for having saved so many American Indian cultural items. In some cases, some American Indians are indeed grateful. But, in other cases, there has been great disappointment.’ For example, museums have exchanged objects, sold items to private dealers or failed to prevent thefts, thereby ‘denying American Indians the opportunity to view or possess things that could be culturally important to them’ (Cooper 2008: 83).

Civil rights protests throughout the United States and Canada in the 1960s and ‘70 s included American Indian assertions of rights to have a voice in how museums treated the remains of their ancestors, sacred and ceremonial objects, and knowledge. They won the right to take active roles in presenting the histories and identities of their communities (Cooper 2008). Most museums that held American Indian collections appointed Native advisory boards, some of which included community cultural experts in program planning, and many Native communities established tribal museums or museum-like cultural or heritage centres. Passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1979 drew attention to sacred and ceremonial items in museums, but it was not until the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 that all museums that received Federal funding or tax-exempt status were forced to engage in dialogue with source communities. Federally recognized tribes became eligible for Federal funding to help facilitate repatriation. Tribes won rights to operate casinos on tribal lands, some opened successful casinos and some directed profits to tribal museums and cultural centres. Although the Hopi and Zuni tribes have the right to open casinos, they have consistently rejected gambling on the grounds of traditional values.

By 2008, over 200 museum-like operations were being run by and for tribes in Canada and the United States (Cooper 2008: 137). By some definitions, this would include a small, privately-owned museum run by a handful of Hopi individuals as a visitor centre aimed at orienting tourists to Hopi history and material culture. The Hopi tribal government has worked on plans for a tribal museum that would serve both community members and outsiders for decades, and at this time of writing there are no firm plans in place. In contrast, the government of the neighbouring Navajo Nation founded the Navajo Nation Museum in 1961 as a one-room orientation for tourists with one staff member, and in 1998 emerged in a beautiful new building that serves the largest Indian Reservation in the United States with exhibits, cultural programming, library and archives ( Its development was delayed for nearly a decade because the new building was strongly identified with an outgoing tribal President, and the incoming administration felt it needed to establish its own signature projects. The Zuni tribe developed its A:shiwi A:wan tribal museum over a period of about 20 years with a long series of planning projects. Perhaps learning from the Navajo experience, Zuni reached a decision to keep the museum separate from the tribal government so that it would be truly owned by the community, and not be identified with particular politicians or political factions (Isaac 2007). The current MNA-Hopi partnership presents a ‘third way’ – not a tribal museum, not a completely ‘outsider’ museum. This partnership rests on a unique history that includes a founding focus on cultural arts as well as history and archaeology, a long-standing practice of hiring Hopi employees, and programming that went well beyond collecting and displaying Hopi objects to tourists and other outsiders.

The Museum of Northern Arizona did not merely collect objects produced by Hopi artisans but also took an active role in shaping what was produced, marketed and collected. In turn, Hopi artists used the MNA and their artwork to assert their social identities at many levels, ethnic, village, family, clan and individual. In particular, they were interested in differentiating themselves from the Navajo people who surrounded and outnumbered them.

The Hopi live in 12 farming villages in the high desert of northern Arizona. Today, they number about 12,000. Many still speak their indigenous Uto-Aztecan language in addition to English. One village, Hano, was founded in 1700 by Tewa-speaking immigrants from what is now New Mexico. The Hopi-Tewa still maintain a distinct ethnic identity, and many Hopi-Tewa women are renowned potters. Each autonomous village is governed by traditional religious leaders. Traditional leadership roles, ritual knowledge and responsibilities, land tenure and certain social roles are passed down the generations in matrilineal clans. Many Hopi people identify themselves first by clan, then by village and last as ‘Hopi’, a term that refers more to an ideal way of life than an ethnic or political identity, although the word has come to encompass many meanings. Most Hopi villages also send elected or appointed representatives to a tribal council, a structure imposed by the US government. Today, the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office serves as the arm of tribal government that brokers relationships among tribal members, researchers, museums and government agencies in attempts to foster continuity in language, arts, traditions and sacred places on and off the reservation.

Over the past 80 years, MNA has helped to shape the general public’s view of Hopi ethnic identity through promotion of arts and crafts. For example, many museums in the western United States have Native American art fairs that include Hopi artists, but only MNA has an exclusively Hopi show (as well as Navajo, Zuni and Hispanic fairs). The Hopi tribe has contributed to the identity of MNA, through the activities of Hopi employees, artists and scholars. In 2005, the Museum and the tribal government signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding that has moved the relationship from paternalism to collaboration and reciprocity (Museum of North Arizona 2005). By facilitating discussion and presentation of Hopi traditional histories, language preservation and contemporary Hopi use of archaeological data, and by assisting the Hopi Tribe in curating its collections until it can develop its own tribal museum, MNA has become an active participant in shaping the way future generations will understand what it means to be Hopi. For example, MNA currently cares for two archaeological collections excavated on the reservation and a collection of Southwest Indian fine arts donated to the tribe. MNA and the Hopi tribe are currently partnering on a long-term exhibit planning project. Hopi and non-Hopi museum professionals have held public discussion forms and interviewed nearly 40 Hopi consultants about permanent and travelling exhibits that will explain the Hopi world to outsiders in Hopi voices, and provide educational programs for Hopi families and school groups. When asked whether Hopi people would welcome such exhibits in a non-Hopi owned museum, one Hopi consultant said, ‘of course! Hopi families have been coming to MNA for generations and we feel this is our museum.’ In this chapter, I will explain how the varied and changing relationships between MNA and Hopi artisans have shaped the Museum’s extensive collections of Hopi jewellery, pottery, baskets, textiles and katsina dolls (Fig. 8.1). The histories of making, collecting and interpreting are dynamic and distinct for each category but some common themes are discernable.
Fig. 8.1

Hopi arts on display: coiled and wicker basketry, a woven belt, kachina dolls, pottery and jewellery (Photo by Milton Snow, 1946–1950. Northern Arizona University Cline Library item 26974, call number HCPO.PH.2003.1.HC5.8. Courtesy of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office)

Hopi Silver Jewellery

Hopi silversmithing began in the late nineteenth century, but was undifferentiated until the 1940s from that made by their Navajo and Zuni neighbours. In 1938, MNA founders and curators began to help Hopi smiths develop a distinctive style. Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton wrote a letter to 18 Hopi silversmiths to tell them ‘of our plan to improve Hopi silver and to assist Hopi smiths’ (in Wright 1977: 40). She pointed out that Hopi smiths received low prices for their work because tourists did not know the difference between hand-made jewellery and mass-produced machine-made work. New government programs were beginning that would help to identify and mark ‘genuine’ Indian arts. She wrote:

Navajo silver, Hopi and Pueblo silver, is very much alike, most people cannot tell the difference. Hopi silver should be entirely different from all other Indian silver, it should be Hopi, silver using only Hopi designs… .The Museum proposes to help the Hopi silver smiths in this way. First, we are making a set of designs for silver, using certain Hopi designs in a new way… .We hope that these designs will help the Hopi smiths to understand what we mean by asking them to use one of the Hopi designs, which has not been used for silver before, and that they will then begin to make their own Hopi designs (Colton in Wright 1972: 42).

Virgil Hubert, assistant curator of art at the Museum, who was not Hopi, produced a set of drawings and paintings of jewellery that would require many different silverworking techniques by borrowing designs from Hopi pottery, basketry and textile designs (Fig. 8.2). Mary-Russell Colton researched the Federal Government’s hallmark guidelines, established by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board to assure authenticity in Indian arts and insisted that smiths use hallmarks along with Hubert’s designs. A few Hopi smiths, notably Paul Saufkie, began to use the designs, but only four artists submitted work that Colton felt was up to standards for the 1939 Hopi Craftsman Exhibition at MNA. Their pieces were sold and she continued to encourage the program she called the ‘Hopi Silver Project’ (Mangum and Mangum 1997: 100–102).
Fig. 8.2

Design for a silver and turquoise bracelet, presented to Hopi silversmiths by the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA). Goache painting by Virgil Hubert, Assistant Curator. Catalog number C2405 (©2010 Museum of Northern Arizona)

During World War II, smiths could not obtain materials. Most Hopi men went to war, were imprisoned as conscientious objectors or had to do extra work at home to make up for those who were gone. After the war, men needed work that would help their families survive in an increasingly cash-based economy. Making jewellery was one option.

Fred Kabotie, a well-known Hopi artist, showed Saufkie’s work and his own designs to the director of the Federal Indian Education program and proposed silversmithing classes for veterans. Classes began in 1947 with Kabotie and Saufkie as instructors (Fig. 8.3). Veterans received training, tools and living expenses for the 18 month course. Instructors and students used the MNA designs, augmented by ones from other Hopi arts, and their own original designs (Figs. 8.4 and 8.5). They started using a variety of different techniques and over time, the appliqué technique suggested by the Museum gave way to the overlay technique. In Kabotie’s own words, ‘Overlay jewellery is made from two layers of flat silver. The under layer is a solid piece; the upper layer bears designs which have been cut out. The two pieces are soldered together’ (Kabotie 1950: 1).
Fig. 8.3

Paul Saufkie instructs a student at Oraibi High School (Photo by Milton Snow, 1944–1950. Northern Arizona University Cline Library item 29099, call number HCPO.PH.2003.1.HC5.64. Courtesy of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office)

Fig. 8.4

Hopi silver overlay jewellery, based on designs elements from Hopi pottery and basketry provided by MNA curator Virgil Hubert (Photo by Milton Snow, 1944–1950. Northern Arizona University Cline Library item 26980, call number HCPO.PH.2003.1.HC5.14. Courtesy of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office)

Fig. 8.5

Sketches with ‘suggestions for jewellery designs’ based on painted pottery (Photo by Milton Snow, 1944–1950. Northern Arizona University Cline Library item 26972, call number HCPO.PH.2003.1.HC5.7. Courtesy of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office)

When the veterans’ program ended in 1949, smiths had no way to get additional materials and tools, so some of them formed the Hopi Silver Craft Guild, which obtained a government loan for supplies and equipment. Later, it was legally incorporated as a non-profit organization (Kabotie 1965). The Guild built its own workshop and store, and flourished through the 1970s. It still exists today, but is largely inactive. Some think the Guild’s inactivity is due in part to its own success – a number of prosperous silver artists have built their own shops and clientele. Yet its main competitor in the 1960s and 70 s was HopiCrafts, a shop founded by brothers Wayne and Emory Sekaquaptewa of Third Mesa. Both HopiCrafts and the Guild thrived in that era, and the competition between the two workshops seems to have raised the overall technical quality of Hopi silverwork and promoted diversity in design. Early on, Hopi silversmiths worked in groups in the formal teaching and mentoring programs practiced by both the Guild and HopiCrafts, and now they tend to work as individuals who sometimes mentor a small number of students. Many have their own workshops and some have their own retail shops.

Hopi silver has come to express Hopi ethnic identity even though it was a new technology, kick-started by outsiders who at first told Hopi silversmiths what to do and how to do it. The Museum’s intervention diverted Hopi jewellers from reliance on a larger, pan-Southwestern Indian jewellery tradition to distinctly Hopi designs that came from other media, primarily women’s basketry and pottery and men’s textile arts (Figs. 8.5 and 8.6). Some Hopi men began to draw on archaeological sources – prehistoric pottery and petroglyphs. While materials and techniques came from outside, designs came from inside Hopi culture and developed from there as a result of Hopi efforts. Hopi choices of designs reflect concerns that are still current today: the unique trajectory of Hopi history and the diverse ethnic composition of Hopi communities – clan symbols, migration symbols and use of ancestral designs newly brought to light by archaeologists and museums (Fig. 8.7) (see Bernardini 2005; Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Ferguson 2006).
Fig. 8.6

Fred Kabotie instructs the Hopi veterans’ silversmithing class. The group is discussing how to adapt designs from the traditional brocade manta (shoulder blanket) to jewellery (Photo by Milton Snow, 1944–1950. Northern Arizona University Cline Library item 27314, call number HCPO.PH.2003.1.HC5.39. Courtesy of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office)

Fig. 8.7

Hopi veterans’ silversmithing class, displaying clan symbols used as jewellery designs and as hallmarks (Photo by Milton Snow, 1944–1950. Northern Arizona University Cline Library item 27301, call number HCPO.PH.2003.1.HC5.32. Courtesy of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office)

Hallmarks, Clan Symbols and Clan Knowledge

The hallmarks smiths used to identify their work (a practice encouraged by the Museum and the Guild) were sometimes based on artists’ initials, but more often on clan symbols (Figs. 8.7 and 8.8). These symbols also became one of the most popular sources of designs (Figs. 8.8 and 8.9). Jewellers proudly point out their own clan symbols, inherited from their mothers, and also those of their fathers and other relatives, both blood relatives and ceremonial godparents. The clans, including Sun, Sun Forehead, Bear, Spider, Snow, Water House and Tobacco, let each smith design his own version of a clan symbol as a hallmark (Fig. 8.7). For example, one Bear clan member depicted a bear’s face and another used a bear track; one Water House clan member depicted a cloud, and another a tadpole.
Fig. 8.8

Fred Kabotie, left, teaching GI silversmithing class use of traditional Hopi design in modern jewellery. Here, they examine designs and hallmarks based on clan symbols displayed below the Hopi Silvercraft Guild’s sun symbol trademark (Photo by Milton Snow, 1944–1950. Northern Arizona University Cline Library item 27309, call number HCPO.PH.2003.1.HC5.35. Courtesy of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office)

Fig. 8.9

Hopi silver overlay bracelet with sun design. The sun is a clan symbol, but it also became the hallmark of the Hopi Silvercraft Cooperative Guild. Museum of Northern Arizona catalog number E10280 (© 2010 Museum of Northern Arizona)

Hopi clan symbols are not just convenient ways to identify individuals or their artwork. Clanship is at the heart of Hopi ethnic identity. Hopi men who could not write their names in English signed government documents with clan symbols in the nineteenth century, not with stereotypical Xs (Fewkes 1897). Clan identities and clan symbols continue today, and are key to understanding the Hopi world. Clan knowledge and responsibilities pass from uncle to nephew, and to some extent from mother to daughter. Initiation into religious societies passes from ceremonial sponsors to initiates, and additional knowledge and responsibilities are acquired that way. When men have the right to know the clan histories of their sponsors, as well as their own clan histories, knowledge is transmitted across generations, but it also remains dispersed within each Hopi community. No individual or family has the ritual information that comprises a complete ritual cycle for any village, which ensures that community members stay connected. Sharing clan histories and ritual knowledge too widely dilutes knowledge, disrupts distribution of social and ritual responsibilities and highlights potential contradictions and conflicts. Dispersed knowledge presents several dilemmas for exhibit planning – what information should be presented? How much information is appropriate? Who should provide it? The symbols used in Hopi jewellery designs and as hallmarks thus serve as a tangible reminder to curators that the Hopi world is deliberately diverse, and curators must take care not to homogenize symbols, meanings or stories. A culturally homogenous presentation of Hopi life and art would be an inaccurate presentation.

MNA’s Hopi Jewellery Collection

In spite of MNA’s key role in developing a distinctive Hopi jewellery style and selling the work of many Hopi jewellers in its gift show, the Museum collected little Hopi silver for its permanent collections. The current collections manager attempts to fill out the collection by regularly checking online auction sites for Hopi jewellery that is identified by maker and hallmark, with the goal of obtaining at least one piece from each maker insofar as this is possible given the Museum’s limited acquisitions budget. Other pieces arrive in the collections through individual donations which are evaluated by a committee who considers each piece’s contribution to the existing collection.


Hopi pottery traditions are an amalgam of stylistic and technological inheritance from several archaeologically defined regions and local innovations. The first pottery vessels in the region appeared around AD 200 in the form of polished low-fired brownware vessels that looked like pottery from northern Mexico. By the 700s, potters had adapted their techniques to local materials, adopted higher firing temperatures and a decorative style apparently based on small repeated geometric units that first appeared on textiles and coiled baskets. From that time to the late 1200s, pottery styles in the Hopi area consisted of coarse gray cooking pots; brightly coloured red and polychrome bowls, dippers, canteens and seed jars; and black-on-white water jars, dippers and bowls with designs that echo those on loom-woven cotton textiles. Following severe drought, demographic upheavals and widespread migration in the late 1200s, Hopi traditional history recounts a ‘gathering of clans’ on the Hopi Mesas. Potters on the Hopi Mesas developed a new pottery technology called ‘Jeddito Yellow Ware’. Fired with coal at a high temperature (about 1000°C), this ware has a bright yellow colour that is entirely new in the region, but painted designs are very similar to those on red and white slipped pottery from other regions, such as Homo’ovi along the middle Little Colorado River about 100 km to the south and ancestral Acoma and Zuni sites to the east. By 1375, all these areas and potters of the Rio Grande Valley shared an elaborate set of painted designs that included katsina faces, parrots, prayer feathers, cloud and water designs and serpents. After the Spanish entrada of 1540, Hopi villages took in refugees from Spanish oppression and other waves of Pueblo refugee immigrants arrived from what is now New Mexico after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and the Reconquest of 1692. By 1700, Hopi pottery began to look very much like that of Acoma and Rio Grande Pueblos. Subsequent population movement among Zuni and Hopi villages in the nineteenth century resulted in Hopi potters emulating Zuni products.

Hopi pottery, then, has a long history of flexibility and change. Archaeologists can look at a fragment of painted pottery from anywhere in Arizona or New Mexico and infer a date within a 50-year interval, using techniques developed in part by Harold Colton and colleagues at MNA (see Colton 1953, 1956).

When Thomas Keam and other Anglo-Americans set up trading posts in Hopiland in the late 1800s, Hopi pots were indistinguishable from those made by Zuni potters. Pottery making was diminishing on Second and Third Mesas, and only First Mesa potters were producing enough pottery for trade. Keam and others encouraged First Mesa potters to copy ancient designs, particularly those of the fifteenth century Sikyatki Polychrome. Several potters worked with Keam and others to develop what has become known as Sikyatki Revival pottery. The most famous potter working in this style was Nampeyo, a Hopi-Tewa woman. Her husband, Lesou, a Hopi, painted many of the vessels that Nampeyo formed and fired. Demand for Sikyatki Revival pottery increased in the early decades of twentieth century, as more visitors arrived by train and took Fred Harvey tours. Ultimately they followed the highway that became the famous Route 66, the Mother Road from Chicago to Los Angeles, which passed within 100 km of the Hopi villages. Unfortunately, as demand for Hopi pottery increased, quality decreased.

In recalling the Museum’s role in revitalizing Hopi ceramic arts, MNA librarian Katharine Bartlett recalled,

By 1920, pottery art had deteriorated in quality in favour of quantity. Every potter was busy turning out as many little curios as possible – ashtrays in the form of cowboy hats was a horrible example – in addition to a few larger pieces for her own use. The quality of black paint had also declined, for it easily rubbed off. (Bartlett 1977: 13)

Mary-Russell Colton resolved to improve Hopi ceramic arts, a central goal of the first MNA Hopi Craftsman exhibition in 1930. She encouraged potters to send their best work, to make pieces in a variety of sizes and shapes and to mark the pottery with their own name or symbol ‘in order to establish a reputation for themselves.’ Potters complied with her first two edicts, but not the third. Bartlett speculated that ‘they didn’t use signatures because it is not the Hopi way to draw attention to oneself’, but in the MNA Hopi Shows, ‘every entry bore a [paper] tag showing the maker’s name and village’. She adds, ‘in the last few years [mid-1970s] more and more women are signing their works’ (Bartlett 1977: 13). Subsequent generations of potters were more amenable to signing their work, and the practice was common by the late 1970s. Like male jewellers, many potters sign with a clan symbol, some with a symbol that referred to a personal name, such as a flower, frog or fawn.

Harold Colton’s contribution to the ‘improvement’ of pottery making, at least in part, consisted of conducting controlled firing experiments with Hopi potters who demonstrated their craft at the annual Hopi exhibition (Colton 1951). He used a pyrometer to measure the maximum temperature in settings with varying proportions of coal and sheep dung. Coal had been the favoured fuel for firing prior to the introduction of livestock by the Spaniards in 1629. Colton’s efforts to persuade Hopi potters to include at least some coal fuel met with limited success. Few potters use coal today, even though it is now available free to tribal members from the Peabody Coal Company’s strip mine several hours drive north of the Hopi villages. One potter told me, ‘it’s just so much easier to buy a whole pickup truckload of dung from Navajo ladies who bring it right to the village.’

MNA also educated pottery buyers. Over the last few decades, MNA has produced publications for non-Hopis that explain the Museum’s collection of Hopi pottery and how prospective collectors can evaluate, purchase and care for it. One such article recommends that prospective buyers visit the usual ‘authorities’ (dealers, galleries, publications) to learn how to judge the quality of Hopi pottery, but also advocates visiting the reservation and talking with potters (Hitchcock 1977). In its publications, the Museum tended to define ‘quality’ in terms of western aesthetics, emphasizing the precision of painted designs as important and identifying the presence of colour variations such as fire clouds as flaws. In contrast, Hopi potters even today emphasize the importance of a warm yellow and orange mottled colouring called ‘blush’ that indicates that a pot has a living spirit, and that it survived the risky traditional open-air firing process (Charley and McChesney 2007: 87, 89). Hopi potters admire painted designs, and most enjoy doing them, but they are the measure neither of a master potter nor of a masterpiece. Unfortunately, many Hopi potters have bent to pressure from galleries and high-end buyers and now strive to produce precise but rigid designs on pots with uniform colours that seem lifeless to those with more traditional aesthetic standards and preferences.

Likewise, museum advice about caring for Hopi pots may deny them a life of their own. Potters say that pots have always been meant for use. They are made to be used, and should go out into the world as ambassadors for Hopi values, to be loved and enjoyed in the home. But the Museum’s publications advise buyers to avoid placing them on a hard surface lest the base get scraped. As this is the location of the signature, when there is one, scratching this emblem of prestige and authenticity might diminish the piece’s monetary value. Older Hopi pots in MNA’s collection are seldom signed, and often have use-wear on the base. Should contemporary Hopi pots be used by their makers – to hold coins, toothpicks, matches and other household items, or to cook beans in the microwave? Many Hopi potters say ‘yes’ – pots are both tools and members of the buyer’s as well as the maker’s family; curators say ‘no, they are too fragile.’

MNA’s own pottery collection preserves examples of pottery that was made for use as well as for sale to buyers whose most common notion of ‘use’ was display that did not involve frequent handling. The collection began in 1928, when Lyndon Lane Hargrave collected 41 Hopi pots. Unlike other traders and collectors of the time, Hargrave focused on obtaining large utility jars that families considered to be of no value because newly available metal cans and buckets were lighter and stronger. These storage and cooking jars comprised the Museum’s first ethnological collection. In a belated act of salvage ethnography, these jars were meant to capture evidence of a way of life that was rapidly disappearing as Euro-American containers were adopted. MNA added pieces almost every year from the Hopi Craftsmen show starting in 1930; most of these probably had been made for sale. In the mid-1970s, MNA embarked on a National Endowment for Arts-funded project to catalog the Hopi pottery and published an illustrated description (Allen 1984). At that time, the Museum had 1053 pieces. Over half, 58%, were purchased by the Coltons and Museum staff through direct interaction with potters at their homes or at the Hopi show. Rather than focusing on pottery as a fine art form, MNA’s collection policy was to ‘show representative examples of what was produced’ (Allen 1984: 15).

The Museum regularly added a few pieces from the Hopi Show to its permanent collections until the 1980s; then collecting became sporadic. Due to diminishing finances and rising prices, the Museum could not often afford to purchase Hopi pottery. Museum administrators sometimes purchased items that were broken accidentally and added these to the collection in order to have some record of what kinds of pottery had been on offer. Limited collecting of representative pieces began again around 2003, with the assistance of donor sponsorship. Today there are 1403 objects in the historic period (post-A.D. 1630) and contemporary Hopi pottery collection.

Over the history of the Museum, active influence on Hopi pottery went from a relationship of active efforts to influence what Hopi potters were doing, to an effort focused more on educating buyers, to what is now a relatively passive role of hosting a venue for sale and demonstration of the craft. Future plans are detailed below.

Baskets and Textiles

Hopi basketry is a popular and well-known art form, with many extraordinary women basketweavers working today. Textiles, on the other hand, are becoming scarce although the Museum has over the decades made efforts to encourage weavers, who are almost all men. Basketry and textile production and their use are encoded with deeply important gendered meanings and have critical roles in key Hopi rituals and family life. Hopi weddings, elaborate multi-year affairs, involve exchange of women’s baskets and men’s textiles, sometimes in large numbers.

Women are responsible for making basketry plaques for weddings and other life-cycle events, as well as for their own ritual sorority performances and community-wide katsina dances. Ritual foods should be properly carried and served on basketry trays or plaques. Basketry style and technology signals village membership – Second Mesa weavers make coiled baskets of fine yucca strips stitched around a spirally bundle of grass. Third Mesa weavers make wicker plaques of dyed rabbitbrush. At least some women in most Hopi villages, including the ones on First Mesa, make plaited yucca leaf ‘sifter’ baskets (Breunig 1982). All are popular gifts among Hopis and items for purchase in shops, galleries and art festivals. Baskets sometimes serve as a form of currency, in that they can be exchanged for other items and services.

One internal force that supports high quality and continuity in Hopi basketweaving is the spiritual need for a bride to present her groom with a basket plaque that will serve at his death as a vehicle for safe passage to the underworld. The wedding plaque is called ‘hawapi’, a ‘thing for descending upon’ (to the underworld). Likewise, the groom’s family must provide the bride with her wedding robes, including a white cotton robe that will serve as her burial shroud and her vehicle to reach the land of the dead. Men must also weave traditional textiles such as wide brocade sashes, embroidered kilts and shoulder blankets for ceremonial use. All katsinas wear such clothing, as well as social dancers like Butterfly and Buffalo dancers who perform in the fall and winter, following the spring–summer katsina season. They are, then, worn the year round and also in places other than Hopi villages. Weaving in the New Mexico pueblos has declined even more than at Hopi, and performers there often purchase ritual textiles from Hopi weavers.

Hopi and other Pueblo men who want to take part in ritual performances but cannot weave their own ritual garments must purchase or trade for them, often at great expense. In 1933, Hopi potter Ethel Muchvo wrote to her Boston friend Maud Melville that she was very angry with her husband, Wilfred, for selling all his sheep to ‘get the things that they ware [sic] when they dance.’ He had decided to reject the Christian missionaries’ conversion efforts and resume practice of Hopi katsina religion (Davis 2007: 129). Wilfred Muchvo was an accomplished belt-weaver (Davis 2007: 127), but apparently did not make the requisite kilts, sashes and shoulder blankets. Ethel wrote that without the sheep, they would have nothing to sell to get the ‘things they needed’ for the coming winter. Clearly, for Wilfred, having the right ritual garments was a very high priority. Why, then, did more men not weave? In Wilfred’s case, frequent incapacitation due to tuberculosis was a factor; for others, military service, off-reservation wage labour and mandatory attendance at boarding schools interrupted traditional training in weaving and other skills and left little time for weaving in the kiva.

In the 1940s, for a variety of reasons, long-staple cotton and traditional dyes became increasingly difficult for weavers to obtain, and commercial traders did not perceive enough demand to make it worth their while to provide these essential materials to the few remaining Hopi weavers. The Museum stepped in, purchasing suitable dyes and cotton for re-sale to weavers (Mangum and Mangum 1997: 74–76, 93). Mary-Russell Colton and botanist Alfred Whiting conducted research on vegetable dyes for both textiles and basketry in an effort to promote self-sufficiency and innovation. Their efforts continued the Museum’s benevolent paternalism in helping artists research and obtain materials, make guided innovations and market their work.

MNA did not push weavers to sign their work, perhaps because it is difficult to sign a basket or textile. But recently a few basket weavers have developed distinctive finishing techniques that can be recognized as signatures. Not surprisingly, these are often clan symbols. For example, a Corn Clan weaver from Second Mesa put four coloured dot-in-square ‘qa’öveni’, corn markings, in the outermost coil of a basket plaque entered in the 2006 Hopi show, and a lizard Clan member from Third Mesa weaves a tiny lizard shape into the binding of her wicker plaques.

Of the Museum’s current relationship with weavers, director Robert Breunig says, ‘In recent decades we have not tried to influence the direction or techniques of the art. We have tended to let things evolve. I remember when in the 1970s yucca sifter baskets first had metal rings rather than willow rings. We fretted about whether or not to accept them but eventually did accept them because it was clear that the makers were not going back – the metal rings were considerably easier to work with and gave a rounder sifter’ (Robert Breunig personal communication, 2008).

What do contemporary weavers think about the Museum’s involvement in their work and the current ‘hands off’ approach? Feedback from weavers strongly suggests that they like to see items made for sale at shows, and exemplary items displayed in the collections and exhibits. Artists especially enjoy seeing the work of earlier generations, especially their own ancestors. But seeing items that were meant for a specific individual’s wedding ceremony now kept in a museum can be emotionally distressing. For example, one Hopi staff member recently pointed out wedding robes in the collection that had feathers attached, signalling that they had been given by a groom’s family to a bride and used in a wedding. Why was the robe now in the Museum instead of being kept for its intended use as a burial shroud? Had the bride set aside her family’s wishes and sold the robe? Likewise, a basketry plaque given to a groom should be buried with him, not sold or put in a museum. A coiled plaque with corn made for the famous jeweller Charles Loloma by his wife’s family was sold to MNA after Loloma’s divorce. MNA recently decided not to display it out of concern that Loloma’s family members might see it and feel distressed to recall that the late artist’s body was buried without this spiritually essential item.

Katsina Dolls

Katsinas are benevolent spirit beings who represent all the good things in life. They live in the San Francisco Peaks, a tall volcanic mountain that overlooks the campus of the Museum of Northern Arizona. Katsinas visit Hopi villages in the summertime in the form of clouds and rain, and dance in the kivas in early spring and in open plazas in the summer. In certain ceremonies, katsinas give dolls to babies and to girls. Dolls are made of the roots of cottonwood, a ritually important tree because it grows near springs and other water sources. Until initiation into the katsina society at about age seven to nine, children are not to know who carves and paints the dolls the katsinas bring. A doll, tihu, is a form of prayer, a toy and an educational device. Girls play with them, care for them like babies and hang them on the walls of the home as a reminder of their roles in Hopi life. In the early twentieth century, many men were reluctant to carve katsina dolls for sale, saying it would be ‘like selling your children’ (Breunig and Lomatuway’ma 1992: 10). Some carvers still feel this way and do not carve for sale, others carve ‘traditional’ dolls for ceremonies but produce stylized ‘sculpture’ for sale, and still others make no distinction. Some carvers say any accurate image of a katsina carved by a Hopi is a tiihu, appropriate as a gift for a girl (see Pearlstone 2001: 16–21, 35, 59, 61, 167 for direct quotes). Although indigenous artists often create differences in items made for sale and for their own use, practices and voiced opinions among Hopi carvers vary a great deal. The most consistent formal differences between dolls made for sale and as gifts for Hopi girls are: first, dolls for girls are meant to be hung on the walls of the home, hence they virtually never stand on bases and those made for sale often (by no means always) have a wooden base so they can stand on a shelf; second, those made for girls are never signed because the katsinas give them, not carvers or relatives, and those made for sale are often signed. Carving for sale has grown and diversified over the last century, and MNA has played several roles in this development.

Few objects that might have been katsina dolls have been identified in prehistoric or early historic archaeological contexts and the art form may not have emerged until the nineteenth century (although depictions of katsinas appear in rock art, pottery and kiva murals as early as the AD 1300s). Early katsina dolls in museum collections have fairly simple shapes and are painted with mineral pigments from the local landscape. As metal carving tools and commercial paints became more available, and as demand from traders, collectors and curio shops increased, the dolls became more elaborate, with well-defined limbs and facial features. Hopi families hang dolls on the walls when girls are not playing with them. Non-Hopi buyers preferred to stand them on shelves, so carvers began attaching dolls to small wooden stands (Beaver 1992: 19). The base also provided a convenient surface on which to sign the carver’s name and provide the Hopi name of the particular katsina represented. Across the decades of the twentieth century, carvers developed many new styles including impressionistic ‘katsina sculpture’ and naturalistic ‘action’ figures that represent katsina dancers. Action figures are controversial among religious leaders – tiny fingernails and dimpled knees signal depiction of a mortal human dressed as a spirit being, not the spirit itself, which is the proper subject of a katsina doll. Not only are uninitiated children supposed to be protected from such allusions to spirit impersonators, they should not see katsina carving demonstrated in public. The process of carving dolls metaphorically evokes gestation and birth, and like weaving, carving is a way for men to fulfil their procreative abilities. For this reason, women traditionally do not carve, and the few women who carve today have been asked to stop by religious leaders. Opinions within the community of carvers are diverse; some women carvers have stopped but some continue to do so (Pearlstone 2001: 51–52).

As with other media, the Museum’s role in developing carving for collectors included publication of books and buyers’ guides. One of the first is Harold Colton’s 1949 guide to systematic classification of 266 different katsinas, inspired by his friend Barry Goldwater’s questions about classifying the katsina dolls he collected (Miller 1991: 146). In typical fashion for the mid-century biologist that he was, Colton provides keys to diagnosing the identity of any given katsina doll, but identifying a limited range of head shapes, mouth shapes and eye shapes from which to choose. Colton’s taxonomy has little, if anything, to do with how Hopis think about katsinas, who are likely to group them in terms of which time of the year they come, what role they play in public rituals (for example, line dancers, side dancers, runners and clowns), what kinds of spiritual roles they fulfil or which neighbouring group (Zuni, Jemez. Navajo) first introduced that katsina to the Hopi. Former MNA Curator Barton Wright’s 1977 Complete Guide to Collecting Hopi Katsina Dolls provided a somewhat more culturally sensitive classification. Still, Hopis today are inclined to recall his field research as fraught with mistranslations of Hopi names and provocation of rather vigorous arguments about whether features of particular katsinas were ‘correct’. MNA’s 1992 Hopi Katsina Dolls publication takes a more flexible approach to katsina classification. Author, trader and MNA board member Bill Beaver dedicates several pages to explaining that different katsinas come to different villages, different carvers know different ones and some carved figures are not katsinas at all, but ritual clowns and performers of non-katsina rituals (Beaver 1992).

Perhaps the Museum’s role in the development of carving will be best remembered for the Hopi employees who worked at the Museum and carved dolls for sale to visitors, such as Jimmie Kewanwytewa, who in the 1950s was perhaps the first carver to sign his dolls with his initials (Breunig and Lomatuway’ma 1992: 10). By developing personal relationships with MNA staff and visitors and selling directly to them or through the MNA’s gift shop, they cultivated an appreciation for the art form that surely contributed to today’s international market for a range of carvings, from traditional cradle dolls to action figures to large-scale sculptures.

Most recently, beginning in the 1980s, some carvers – not directly associated with the Museum but with local galleries – have revived an ‘old’ or ‘traditional’ style doll that hangs on the wall, has mineral pigments and preserves original contours of its original cottonwood root (Day 2000). This ‘revival’ was apparently independent of MNA’s influence. The revival or ‘New Traditional’ style developed out of a single carver’s memories of the dolls he saw as a small child, not from ones seen in a museum. Manfred Sunsukewa wanted to recapture the emotional response of a Hopi child to dolls that represented awesome and important spirit beings (Day 2000: 12). The style caught on with a few other carvers (see Day 2000, Pearlstone 2001: 166–167) and some traders (Pearlstone 2006). MNA’s extensive collection of katsina dolls has virtually no examples of the late nineteenth to early twentieth century dolls that inspired the revival, and very few examples of the revival style dolls. Yet the Museum’s gift store sells many New Traditional style dolls.


What patterns can we see in the way traditional Hopi arts have changed over the past 120 years or so, and can we identify influential interactions between individual Hopi artists and MNA programs and personnel? Hopi artists who experienced the most direct interventions by MNA personnel were silversmiths, potters and textile weavers, and to some extent basketweavers, whom Museum personnel encouraged to use vegetable dyes. The Museum appears to have asserted little overt influence on katsina doll carving, and likewise paid little attention to easel painting, quilting and other forms of jewellery such as beadwork which are not derived from traditional art forms. Arts most integrated into traditional Hopi ritual practices and life cycle events are basketry, textiles and some doll carving. Of these, carving has changed the most, but with the Museum apparently exerting more influence on potential buyers than on carvers. Textiles show the least outside influence in terms of designs and techniques, because these are prescribed by ritual requirements. The Museum’s role in helping weavers obtain materials may have bridged a difficult economic period and helped the art form to survive until better supply networks developed. Unfortunately, textiles are still the most vulnerable art form due to their relatively high labour costs and steep learning curve. Silverwork shows the most complicated interactions between Hopi artists and MNA personnel, with the Museum’s art curator offering specific designs as well as advice about developing distinctive techniques meant to convey a Hopi ethnic identity. Yet here, individual artisans strongly asserted their own clan and individual identities in their choices of designs and hallmarking. Hopi leaders began training silversmiths and developing markets within a few years of MNA’s initial efforts.

Overall, the history of MNA’s involvement with developing and marketing Hopi art can be summarized as a gradual shift from benevolent paternalism – Museum personnel telling Hopi artists what to do and how to do it – to a concentration on markets and buyers, to a recent emphasis on partnerships. Mary-Russell Colton’s earliest writings on the subject seem shocking today, perhaps even racist. For example, in a 1930 Museum newsletter she wrote,

The art of a people is only of value in as long as it maintains a distinct pure bred character. Like all native people in the process of readjustment, their art has a tendency to absorb the worst rather than the best, from the dominant civilization that surrounds them. It behoves the dominant culture to lend every assistance and encouragement to its native people to maintain the purity of its beautiful peasant arts and bring with it a worthy contribution to the new era (Colton 1930b: 3 and in Mangum and Mangum 1997: 76).

The Coltons tried to help Hopi artists maintain their native ‘purity’ while at the same time pressuring them to conform to western values such as emphasis on individual artists via signing their work and touting individual reputations, all without critical reflection about their roles as elite outsiders. Good intentions – and we are sure their intentions were benevolent – were enough. Over the years, MNA retreated from its position of power over Hopi artists and turned its attention to educating buyers rather than producers. By the 1980s, many Hopi artists, not only carvers, had achieved economic self-sufficiency. They have college degrees, their own shops and maybe a few helpful patrons. They can choose to work with museums or not. More recently, MNA has served as a culture broker, providing a place for buyers and sellers to meet face-to-face and sponsoring programs to help outsiders understand Hopi art in its own terms.

Currently, MNA aspires to a partner role, but this approach also has challenges. With whom are we partnering? The tribal government’s Cultural Preservation Office? Individual artists? Artists who do not appreciate the government’s ‘culture police’ interfering with what crafts can be demonstrated in public or whether women carvers should be allowed to sell their work at the Museum show or shop? When a dispute centres on conflicts between traditional values, such as the proscription on female carvers versus creativity and innovation, how can the Museum avoid the appearance of taking sides? And there is always more than one side. There are village leaders, clan leaders, men and women, young and old, practitioners of traditional religion and Christians and those who practice both. Museums cannot serve all interest groups, and must avoid the appearance of favouritism. MNA is also more complex than it used to be, with multiple curators, gift shop managers, collections managers, cultural and educational programmers, resident artists, docents, and Hopi and Navajo staff members and Trustees.

Future Hopi-MNA plans include efforts to make the Museum’s extensive collection more available to contemporary Hopi artists (and other community members), via workshops, shared digital archives and collections tours in MNA’s newly opened Easton Collection Center. This ‘green’ building was designed with comfort for Native community members in mind; advisors from Hopi, Navajo, Yavapai, Apache, Walapai and Havasupai communities took active roles in architectural design. The architect and MNA’s director were gratified and relieved to see that all agreed on culturally-appropriate design features, in spite of cultural and political differences. In this endeavour, Hopi participants subsumed their tribal identity within a broader Native American identity (that has also emerged in struggles to preserve the San Francisco Peaks as place that is sacred to 12 tribes). The resulting collections repository is designed to let in natural light (filtered), is made of mostly local natural materials and has views of the San Francisco Peaks. Unlike the old collections building, the new one will not house human remains and funerary objects, at the request of religious leaders concerned about the health and well-being of community members. Hopi visitors will soon be able to examine and handle ancestral pottery without exposure to items that came from graves. In the museum exhibits building, MNA is currently designing exhibits of katsina dolls and carvings that will not include depictions of ritual personages that should not be seen by outsiders or uninitiated Hopi, or should not be displayed at certain times of the year.

The current incarnation of the Hopi Craftsman Exhibition is the Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture, part of the MNA Heritage Program (Museum of Northern Arizona 2009). Artists still enter their work for judging. Some submit work to be sold on commission; many pay a nominal fee for a booth where they can sell directly to festival visitors. Programming not only includes dance, music and demonstrations of arts and food preparation but also ‘Heritage Insights’ lectures and artist interviews, and craft activities for children. Although some artists complain about booth fees, admission prices and other details, others note that booth fees in other shows are higher and that MNA administration, staff and volunteers clearly make efforts to be friendly and flexible. The Museum makes no profit on the festival, as expenses still outweigh income from admissions, booth fees and commissions. The benefit to the Museum is all in community outreach and publicity; benefit to the Hopi Tribe likewise comes in the form of positive publicity and continuation of what has become a social and cultural tradition for many families.

Collections are the key to maintaining a record of the relationships between the Museum and Hopi artists over time. Unfortunately, collections and documentation are uneven. MNA had a strong hand in shaping Hopi silver overlay jewellery, but has a surprisingly small collection of Hopi jewellery; fortunately, archives, photos and correspondence about the Hopi Silver project survive to tell the story. On the other hand, MNA personnel who worked with Hopi basketweavers to develop vegetable dye recipes saved samples of basketry materials, dye plants and mineral pigments, documenting each sample with its scientific name and provenience. The Museum’s herbarium collection increases in importance as some culturally important plants are disappearing from Hopi lands due to drought, livestock grazing, exotic invasive species and soil erosion.

It is difficult to offer practical advice to other museum professionals who would like to collaborate with indigenous communities. Every such effort will be a unique process. Ethnogenesis is everywhere an ongoing process, and even small communities are internally diverse. Developing mutually productive relationships between museums and communities therefore takes time, nurturing and continuity in personnel. Comparing the MNA–Hopi relationship with nearby Zuni Pueblo’s museum planning process as detailed by Isaac (2007) reveals similarities in patterns of tensions and contradictions between economic and traditional cultural goals, insiders and outsiders, object-based and process-based exhibition. Maybe the most important thing to say is that we cannot expect to take dynamic, diverse and situational discourse about history and identity and find perfect ways to represent the arts and other material culture of indigenous communities in museum settings. But we can make our museums places where discussion is encouraged, and where there are objects, texts and media on display that are worth discussing. The first step towards relationships that put Native communities on an equal footing with the museum is serious reflection on how the museum’s collections, archives, publications and long-term community relationships came to be. This volume moves us all towards that goal.



Many thanks to Zena Pearlstone and Dennis Gilpin for much-needed editing and fact-checking, to anonymous reviewers who encouraged me to think about the larger context of this case study and to the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office and Robert Breunig at the Museum of Northern Arizona for guidance and support. Any errors that remain are my own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  2. 2.Museum of Northern ArizonaFlagstaffUSA

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