The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian has the distinction of being New Mexico’s oldest non-profit, independent museum. Founded in 1937, it offers unique exhibitions of contemporary and historic Native American art and is well-known for its focus on lesser-known genres, as well as its solo shows by living Native American artists.
The museum takes pride in its commitment to research, resulting in a depth and interpretation of its installations that often goes beyond that of other institutions. Exhibitions are particularly noteworthy for the accessibility of their content, along with an array of related educational programs for the public. “The museum is a small gem and visitors often comment on how this type of environment translates into an intimate experience,” says Neebin Southall, Public Relations Coordinator for the Wheelwright.
Come June 2015, however, the Wheelwright will enter into a new era with the opening of the first major expansion in its seventy-eight-year history and will lay claim to being the first museum space anywhere devoted permanently to the past, present and future of Native American jewelry and related traditions. The Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry will comprise two exhibit galleries totaling 2,000 square feet with extra space for research and a classroom. The exhibition will present visitors with the rich, multicultural story of jewelry in the Southwest via examples of a variety of styles and media from flatware and hollowware to lapidary and stone carving. Pieces range from 1850 to the present and include many works which are not represented in other museums. Of particular note is the Carl Lewis Druckman collection of Navajo and Pueblo Spoons, “thunderbird” jewelry from Santo Domingo Pueblo and the Anderman/Gallegos collection of New Mexican filigree.
With a collection that numbers in the thousands, the museum will only be able to show a portion of its holdings in the permanent exhibition. An adjacent 400-square-foot gallery will provide the opportunity to show additional pieces via a series of dynamic installations. Though Native American jewelry has been included within exhibits at other major institutions, it has traditionally been treated as secondary or inferior to other arts. At the Wheelwright, however, visitors will learn to view jewelry as a serious art form, one that is entwined with concepts of identity and status. With Santa Fe’s “Summer of Color” in full force, the museum’s new exhibition makes its contribution obvious. “Our color, if you haven’t guessed by now, is silver,” says Southall.