Unpacking the Collection

Part of the series One World Archaeology pp 185-208


Crafting Hopi Identities at the Museum of Northern Arizona

  • Kelley Hays-GilpinAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, Northern Arizona UniversityMuseum of Northern Arizona Email author 

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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.