2021-22 research fellows convene in Maine

Participants in the 2021–22 Lunder Institute Research Fellowship program on the Art of the American Southwest visited Waterville in October. During their time at Colby College, they met with each other, with staff, and with their student research assistants, and they viewed the works they are researching in the Colby College Museum of Art’s collection.

Led by Distinguished Scholar Jessica L. Horton, the 2021–22 cohort of research fellows is pursuing original scholarship on artistic modernisms of the Southwest, a region with unstable and contested boundaries shaped by sovereign Indigenous communities, settler colonialism, and ecological flux. Motivating this focus is the Lunder Collection of paintings by the Taos Society of Artists as well as a group of Pueblo ceramics in the Pearson Collection. With support from the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Colby Museum is developing a collection reinstallation that will reorient and reinterpret its collections of Native and non-Native Art of the Southwest through a collaborative research and curatorial process.

The research fellows are: Jill Ahlberg Yohe, the associate curator of Native American Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art; Caroline Jean Fernald, Executive Director of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley; Elizabeth S. Hawley, an art historian, writer, and curator specializing in modern and contemporary art and art of the Americas; Hadley Jensen, Postdoctoral Fellow in Museum Anthropology, Bard Graduate Center and the American Museum of Natural History in New York; and Patricia Marroquin Norby (Purépecha), the Metropolitan Museum’s inaugural Associate Curator of Native American Art. Juan Lucero (Isleta Pueblo), Mdewakanton Native Art Fellow, 2020–21 at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, joined the program in December, having cataloged the Colby Museum’s collection of Indigenous ceramics.

Four Colby students serve as research assistants: Mary Bevilacqua ’23, Alexis Kinney ’22, Jade Ma ’23, and Katharine Zhang ’24. Each is mentored by one or more of the fellows and by Siera Hyte, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

As part of their visit, research fellows convened at the Lunder Institute and visited the museum’s galleries, looking together at original works of art while engaging in discussions about the larger issues in this field of art history. They also met virtually with Cynthia Chavez Lamar, assistant director for collections at the National Museum of the American Indian, who spoke eloquently about the role that museums and their collections must play in forging connections with Indigenous communities. She also offered powerful examples of how Native scholars, artists, and community members can significantly transform institutional and public understanding of collections and the power of those holdings, advocating for new kinds of methodologies for collections stewardship and access. The research fellows also visited the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine at Orono to view its collections of Wabanaki art guided by Jennifer Neptune, Penobscot artist, herbalist, writer, and educator, and with Sky Heller, the Hudson Museum’s registrar. We are grateful to the museum’s director, Gretchen Faulkner, for making this visit possible.

Due to Covid, the group’s planned visit to Taos, New Mexico has been postponed. We remain optimistic about being able to travel and reconvene in New Mexico later this year, where additional partners, including artists, curators and scholars, will contribute to a vital dialogue about art and its relationship to community and place, Indigenous creativity and Southwest art histories, and the histories and legacies of settler colonialism.

As a capstone, fellows will produce written reflections on the experience and resulting research. Some of the fellows may also opt to contribute as curatorial and interpretive advisors to the Colby Museum’s reinstallation project and a related symposium and publication.

The goals of the Research Fellowship program are to foster a community of research among scholars and practitioners working on overlapping areas of interest, to stimulate new and needed scholarship for the benefit of the field  in ways that are also help illuminate the collections and programs of the Colby Museum, and to promote the learning and professional development of Colby students in their roles as research assistants.

Image: Lunder Institute Resident Fellow Jill Ahlberg Yohe and Colby Museum Chief Curator Beth Finch examine a piece of pottery in the Landay Teaching Gallery, photo by Sophie Nacht ’23.