Saturday, February 7, 2009

Alaska-New Mexico Connection

The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology on the campus of the University of New Mexico is unique among New Mexico museums in that its broad mission encompasses the entire history of humankind and cultures throughout the world.

One of the permanent exhibits featured prehistoric pottery of the "People of the Southwest." This is a Puebloan Jar dated 1200 A.D.

Some of the pottery bowls in this display are cracked or missing chunks of pottery. Even though there was little color in these bowls, the artistic ability of the creators was clearly apparent.

Among some of the early acquisitions of the Museum was this Devil Mask that was worn for Carnival.

Some of the most unusual woven works of art were the items in this basketry tea set. All pieces in the set looked surprisingly functional.

One of the current exhibits is entitled "North by Southwest," focusing on the the subsistence living, art, and ritual of the people of the Bering Sea region of Alaska. The exhibit has Alaskan artifacts from prehistoric times as well as modern paintings. There are wood and ivory carvings, parkas made from seal intestines and engraved walrus tusks.

This fish hook caught our eye because of its color and shape--looking like a small bottle of catsup, with hooks.

But for us, the highlight of this exhibit was this mask. It was described as portraying the Ircenrraat (pronounced irr-chin-hhek), half human, half animal. Half of its mouth was upturned and the other half downturned.

These “little people” of Alaska are a popular source of tales in Yup’ik teachings and legends. These extraordinary, tricky little folks dwell in the tundra, usually underground. It’s too cold for them otherwise and tundra bears find the little tidbits very tasty. Their source of amusement seems to be centered around the trapping, disorienting, and distressing humans.

We spoke with Catherine Baudoin, the co-curator of the "North by Southwest" exhibit, about our recent triip to Alaska. In one of the Elderhostel programs, we learned that there were cultural ties between some of the Athabascan villagers in northern Alaska and the Navajo in northwestern New Mexico.

She confirmed that connection and reported that during a recent visit Athabascan villagers realized that they could understand much of the Navajo language. She encouraged us to talk with members of the Navajo Nation (near Gallup) about the depth of the connection between these two widely-separated (geographically) groups.

Speaking of Alaska, about 14 months ago, we were in Fairbanks, Alaska, on an Elderhostel trip. One of the mornings, our small group went out for a guided nature walk.

It was 16 degrees below zero, but the scenery was a perfect representation of winter.

No, we haven't forgotten the beauty (and cold) of Winter.

1 comment:

Reina said...

I don't know about the two of you, but Rei and I are experiencing some "culture shock" as we become acclimated to heartland temps after a lifetime in MN. Yesterday we had a high of 70, in early February! Not what we are used to, I can tell you that. We aren't complaining--I don't think Rei has even put on his winter coat more than maybe twice down here all winter long, but then again the trade-off for us is mud everywhere. We get rain instead of snow (sometimes with, sometimes without sleet/ice), and the ground is always "mushy". The dogs seem to like it, but there are days I swear I could plant grass seed on the linoleum after they come in... Days like that I miss good fresh snow!

Love the pics of Alaska!