Ancient American Indian Pottery on View at the Fenimore Art Museum

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For more information and images, please contact:
Christine Liggio, Public Relations Office
Fenimore Art Museum/ New York State Historical Association
Phone: (607) 547-1472/E-mail:

COOPERSTOWN, NY, March 20, 2007—Outstanding examples of ancient American Indian pottery from the Southeastern and Southwestern regions of the United States will be featured in America’s Ancient Past: Art of the Mounds and Canyon People, opening April 1 at Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y. The exhibition will close on December 30, 2007.

America’s Ancient Past comprises more than 70 works dating from 900-1600 A.D drawn from Fenimore’s Thaw Collection of American Indian Art, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University and private lenders. This exhibition highlights the distinctive pottery traditions of artists from markedly different regions of North America, the Southeast and the Southwest, through a dramatic presentation of ceramic vessels, figures, and bowls of extraordinary artistry.

The ceramic art of the Southeast region is organized through the themes of Honoring the Ancestors, Cosmos, Human Realm, Animal Realm, and Chiefly Symbols. Mississippian cultures, named for the fertile waterway region in the Southeast United States, flourished from 1000-1600 A.D. Mississippian people built large earthwork mounds that were political and spiritual centers. Elite leaders, priests, and warriors conducted ceremonies at these impressive mounds. Many artists who created domestic and ceremonial ceramics were guided by Mississippian myths about the origins of the world and of humans. Ceramic vessels were painstakingly hand-coiled. Everyday pottery included bowls, jars, and serving and storage containers. Warriors and priests used special pottery for specific foods that were ritually consumed in feasts, purification rituals, and spiritual observances. Engraved, incised, and modeled imagery on the pottery often related to spiritual symbolism that communicated shared beliefs and philosophy.

The pottery culled from the Southwest region is presented through the themes of the Blessing of Rain, Cosmos, Geometric, Animal Realm, and Human Form. The ancient Southwest lands were as diverse as the people who lived there. The terrain included desert, mountains, granite cliffs, caves, canyons, and plateaus. The people lived along major rivers - the Anasazi near the San Juan, Little Colorado, and Rio Grande Rivers; the Mimbres near the Mimbres River; and the Hohokam near the Salt River. The importance of clay, the soil, and the land to the people is expressed in an ancient Pueblo myth about how the original people emerged from the earth. Fundamental connections between the earth, food, survival, pottery and mythology were interwoven with women’s expertise in pottery making and crop cultivation. Pottery making began about two thousand years ago and became a powerful form of expression. Women used their highly specialized knowledge of the earth to extract precious clays for pottery making. They created a wide range of hand-coiled vessels including serving dishes and storage vessels for water, food, and seeds. Ceremonial gatherings also required the use of special pottery. Pottery was painted with mineral and organic pigments. The imagery, inspired by the everyday world and the cosmos, affirmed a sense of identity and cultural values. Southwest pottery making has remained vibrant to the present today.

The exhibition was guest curated by Sherry Brydon, former curator of the Thaw Collection and principal author of the collection’s catalogue raisonné, Art of the North American Indians. Bryon is currently an independent curator and lives in Canada.

About Fenimore Art Museum
One of the nation’s premier art institutions, the Fenimore Art Museum is home to an exceptionally rich collection of American folk art and American Indian art as well as important holdings in American decorative arts, photography, and twentieth-century art. Founded in 1945 in Cooperstown, New York, the museum is part of the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA), founded in 1899. The museum’s renowned Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection, housed in the American Indian Wing, is a masterpiece collection of more than 800 art objects, representing a broad scope of North American cultures. The collections of folk and American art include seminal works by Grandma Moses, Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Cole, William Sidney Mount, Benjamin West, and John H. I. Browere. The museum offers a range of interactive educational programming for children, families, and adults, including lectures and workshops for museum visitors and distance learning instruction for classrooms nationwide. The museum further explores and examines our cultural history by organizing and hosting nationally touring art and history exhibitions, including Grandma Moses: Grandmother to the Nation; Treasures from Olana: The Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church; A Deaf Artist in Early America: The Worlds of John Brewster, Jr.; Winslow Homer: Masterworks from the Adirondacks; and Ralph Fasanella’s America.

The Fenimore Art Museum is located on 5798 State Hwy. 80, Lake Road, in Cooperstown. The museum’s Fenimore Café, overlooking beautiful Otsego Lake, features wonderful views and a tranquil setting amid the terraced gardens. The Museum Shop offers fine jewelry, art reproductions, and a wide selection of publications on folk art, history, and Native American art. Museum admission is $11 for adults, $9.50 for visitors age 65 and over, and $5 for children age 7 to 12; children 6 and under and NYSHA members are admitted free. Reduced price combination admission tickets that include The Farmers’ Museum and The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum are also available. The museum is open from April 1 through December 30. For museum hours or general information, please call 1-888-547-1450 or visit

Press Release Category: 
Exhibition Press Releases
Publication Date: 
March 2007