Day 9. The Heard Museum in Phoenix is one of our favorite places. The permanent exhibits about the native people of the southwest are stunning and as often as we have been, we learn more every visit. This year, there were two special exhibits Peter, Davis and I wanted to see. The first was about the Fred Harvey Company, named for the original founder, Fred Harvey. The second was an art installation by Arizona artist, Steven Yazzie.
We started out with the Fred Harvey exhibit. As frequent travelers to the southwest, we knew that the Santa Fe Railway and its concessionaire, the Fred Harvey Company, were masters at creating a vision of the Southwest. From their first hotel in Albuquerque in 1902 through to the 1947 Painted Desert Inn at Petrified Forest National Park, Fred Harvey Company was a powerful force in building the image of the American Southwest. Jointly, the Fred Harvey-Santa Fe Railway publications promoting the merits of the “Indian Southwest” number in the tens of thousands. Their illustrated books, pamphlets, folios, menus, postcards, playing cards, timetables, calendars and even matchbook covers evoke vivid images of an adventurous journey through a previously remote world.
Encounters with American Indian people and cultures were primary attractions for tourists and travelers. The Fred Harvey Company hired a number of extremely accomplished American Indian artists, including the Hopi-Tewa potter, Nampeyo, to create items for display and for sale in its properties. Navajo weaver Elle of Ganado was hired to create rugs and textiles for sale to the visitors to the Grand Canyon and Albuquerque hotels. To me, the most interesting of Indians hired by the Company was Joe Secakuku, from the Hopi nation. Joe acted as an interpreter and culture-broker who staged Hopi dances each evening at 5:30pm for guests at the hotel called the Hopi House at the Grand Canyon. He decided to dress himself and the other Hopi dancers in Plains-style feather headdresses so visitors would be able to quickly identify “a real Indian”.
Images of the land and its people served both to whet travelers’ appetites and to provide souvenir reminders of southwestern adventures, all of which were for sale at the hotels run by Fred Harvey. The two companies’ identities were so closely intertwined that one hardly knew where the Santa Fe Railway ended and the Fred Harvey Company began. Drawing on a rich resource of ephemera that features the Fred Harvey and Santa Fe Railway companies’ activities at the Grand Canyon and other key focal points in the Great Southwest, this exhibit was illustrated with examples of pamphlets, advertisements, postcards and other promotional materials produced by the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railway. Pottery, textiles, jewelry and other art forms from the Heard Museum’s permanent collection represent the Native peoples who inspired visitors through their artworks and cultures. The exhibit will continue until December 31 and if you are anywhere near Phoenix, check it out.
The second special exhibit was the art installation, “Black, White, Blue, Yellow” (BWBY) by Steven Yazzie (Navajo/Laguna/European). BWBY is an immersive four-channel video and sound installation exploring four sacred mountains that border the Diné/Navajo people:
BLACK (North): Dib’e Nitsaa/Hesperus Mountain. WHITE (East): Peak/Sisnaajini /Blanca Peak. BLUE (South): Tsoodzil Mount Taylor/south. YELLOW (West): Dookʼoʼoosłíí/San Francisco Peak. The video is a journey to sacred land and space, the source of cultural continuities: indigenous knowledge, mystery, discovery, fear, connection, and exploitation by contemporary societies.
BWBY is a culmination of video and sound documentation that brings the viewer into the complexities of these geographies at one moment in time and is designed to touch on the mountains’ symbolic nature residing deep within our human memory.
Upstairs in the special exhibit gallery is a series of murals by Yazzie that tell the story of the Navajo people since their interface with western settlement and the loss of their native lands. The murals are very powerful and bold visual summaries that capture the emotional and historical nature of the conflict. This exhibit is in residence until the end of March, 2017.
Peter and Liz continue their pilgrimage to here, visiting the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and expanding their experience in the desert southwest while living in their Airstream.