National Museum of Ethnology, Japan "TRAJECTORIA"

Call for Articles
2020 Vol.1
Special Theme
An Approach of the Info-Forum Museum

Decolonizing Museum Catalogs: Defining and Exploring the Problem

  • Kelley Hays-Gilpin
    Museum of Northern Arizona and Northern Arizona University
  • Atsunori Ito
    National Museum of Ethnology, Japan
  • Robert Breunig
    President Emeritus of Museum of Northern Arizona
(Published March 31, 2020)

III.Third Case Study: International Collaboration


One of us (Ito) has begun the work of reconnecting the Hopi jewelry collection at MNA, and several other museums, with contemporary Hopi silversmiths. We will explain the background and importance of the MNA collection, and then describe the current project done as a core part of Minpaku’s Info-Forum Museum Project.


In the early 20th century, Hopi jewelry looked very much like jewelry made by their neighbors, the Navajo. The Coltons and MNA fine arts curator Virgil Hubert decided to help Hopi jewelers develop a distinctive style of their own. Hubert created sample jewelry designs based on Hopi pottery, baskets, and textiles. After World War II, Hopi artists Fred Kabotie and Paul Saufkie developed classes to train military veterans to make silver jewelry. The veterans’ class introduced the basics of metalsmithing and silversmithing. They and their students studied and adapted Hopi designs from a variety of art forms. The Museum promoted these designs at its annual Hopi Craftsman Exhibition and Kabotie and others founded the Hopi Silversmith’s Guild and introduced the overlay style developed earlier by MNA (Wright 1972). Each piece produced by the Guild carries its trademark, a sun symbol. Kabotie also encouraged individual silversmiths to sign their artwork with hallmarks (Hays-Gilpin 2011). Some artists early on used initials; most used traditional Hopi clan symbols that refer to their family identity. These hallmarks are still used today, though some sign with their English or Hopi names. Designs and their meanings; artist hallmarks, names, kin and clan relationships, and teacher-apprentice relationships; materials, techniques, and styles – all provide a rich cultural context for Hopi jewelry, katsina doll carvings, and other art forms.

Figure 11. Hopi Jewelry Collections of the Museum of Northern Arizona. Robert Breunig shows a drawer of bracelets. (July 3, 2013, photo by Atsunori Ito)


Minpaku’s Info-Forum Museum project is a collaboration with the Hopi Tribe of Arizona, MNA, and several other museums in Japan, the US, and Great Britain. Minpaku is creating a collaborative catalog of all Hopi items in four museums in Japan. Minpaku, MNA, and others are focusing on 19th-21st century jewelry that Hopi artists made for home use and for sale on the art market (Figure 11).


As shown in the demonstrational lecture (chapter 2 in this special theme) held at the beginning of the Info-Forum Museum project, Jim Enote, the AAMHC former director, and Cynthia Chavez Lamar, the former director of the Indian Arts and Research Center of the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, were invited to Minpaku to share their experiences and know-how on the procedure of the collections review research with the newly arrived Hopi reviewers for this project. They also provided instructions on handling the culturally sensitive objects in museum collection. Cultural sensitivity was sometimes an issue when reviewing katsina dolls. Some Hopi reviewers felt that some representations of these spirit beings should not be carved, sold, collected, and displayed to the public. They informed us of some levels of esoteric meanings that should not be shared outside specific ceremonial contexts or with people who are not initiated into Hopi religious societies. In contrast, jewelry designs are less religiously sensitive, so jewelry is a good place to start testing the collaborative catalogs concept. In addition, Hopi jewelry is popular all over the world, especially in Japan (Ito 2005), and most pieces made since the 1940s are signed or hallmarked so that individual artists can be identified. We aim to reanimate museum objects by putting culturally based information into catalogs, publications, and exhibits. We aim for the process of recording this information to help source community members to reconnect family, to revitalize old techniques, tools, and raw materials, to explore and reinterpret old designs, and to communicate with their past. This documentation process aims to give artists opportunity to leave their self-presentation, interpretation, and message to future generations. Resulting electronic publications will include transcribed text and video.


At this time, 22 participants from the Hopi community have taken part in collections reviews (Figure 12), including physical reviews at eight museums including Minpaku and MNA, and digital review for five museums in the US and one in Scotland. Hopi reviewers were invited and sent to each museum (Figure 13, Film 3) (Figure 14, Film 4). If they could not leave home due to religious ceremonies, farming, health condition, and/or some other reasons, Ito visited the museum himself or with his colleagues to do photography and measurement the every single objects at the storage (Figure 15), and later, carried out the collection review digitally by projecting the images of those objects on a monitor installed at an artist’s studio in the Hopi reservation (Figure 16, Film 5). The team has reviewed about 2,450 pieces (Table 1). More than 640 hours of video commentary has been recorded and transcribed. We followed up with the artists who were interviewed to check the transcripts for cultural sensitivity and accuracy. We sometimes delete or edit passages for clarity, accuracy, or cultural sensitivity. After that process, Ito translates the data to Japanese. Minpaku is publishing text reports (Ito (ed.) 2017, 2019, 2020; Ito et al. 2020), and the collections review digital archive with interpretation in English and Japanese.

Figure 12. 22 participants from the Hopi community taken part in collections reviews.
(Top to down, Left to right) Kevin Takala, Verma “Sonwai” Nequatewa, Joannie Takala, Ed Kabotie, Bendrew Atokuku, Merle Namoki, Candice Lomahaftewa, Gwen Setalla, Gerald Lomaventema, Cordell Sakeva, Robert Rhodes, Jonah Hill, Clinessia Lucas, Yvette Talaswaima, Ramson Lomatewama, Darrin Kuwanhongva, Delwyn "Spyder" Tawvaya, Darance Chimerica, Jerolyn Honwytewa, Jerry Honwytewa Whagado, Spencer Nutima, Tobias Lomayestewa (photos by Atsunori Ito)

Table 1. Teammate Institutions participating in our “Reconnecting Project” (as of December, 2019)
location holding institutions subject of review research implementation period
Osaka, Japan National Museum of Ethnology 281 “Hopi” carved wood dolls
186 “Hopi” arts and crafts
Oct. 2014 and Apr. 2015
Apr. and Nov. 2015
Aichi, Japan Little World Museum of Man 97 “Hopi” arts and crafts Nov. 2015
Nara, Japan Tenri University Sankokan Museum 24 “Hopi” arts and crafts Nov. 2015
Hiroshima, Japan Matsunaga Footwear Museum 324 “Hopi” carved wood dolls Apr. and Oct. 2016
Japan Private Collection 537 “Hopi” jewelry Nov. 2015 and Jun. 2017
AZ, USA Museum of Northern Arizona 446 “Hopi” jewelry
9 Mimbres pots
95 “Hopi” jewelry owned by the Hopi Guild
Jul. and Dec. 2015, Nov. 2018
Oct. 2017
Nov. 2018
CO, USA Denver Art Museum 34 “Hopi” jewelry Jan. 2017
CO, USA Denver Museum of Nature & Science 45 “Hopi” jewelry Jan. 2017
CO, USA History Colorado 17 “Hopi” jewelry Jan. 2017
DC, USA National Museum of the American Indian 150 “Hopi” jewelry May. and Jun. 2017
EDI, Scotland, UK National Museum of Scotland 1 “Hopi” jewelry Jun. 2017
OR, USA Portland Art Museum 1 “Hopi” jewelry Jun. 2017
NM, USA New Mexico State University Museum 15 Mimbres pots Aug. 2017
NM, USA Geronimo Springs Museum 22 Mimbres pots Sep. 2017
DC, USA National Museum of Natural History 26 “Hopi” jewelry Dec. 2017
USA Private Collection 145 “Hopi” jewelry owned by the Hopi Guild Jun. 2019 (photographed)
total 14 institutions and 2 private collections 2,455 items 85 days

Figure 13. A Silver Overlay Pillbox (“E11286” of MNA) (December 2, 2014, photo by Atsunori Ito)


Film 3. “Physical (direct) review” by Merle Namoki, Jerry Honwytewa Whagado, Gerald Lomaventema, and Ed Kabotie on a silver overlay pillbox (“E11286” of MNA). (Ito 2020b)
*Click here for Transcription

Figure 14. A Bracelet Made by Glenn Lucas (“E11060” of MNA) (November 25, 2014, photo by Atsunori Ito)


Film 4. Family Connection. A bracelet made by Glenn Lucas (“E11060” of MNA) was reviewed by his granddaughter, Clinessia Lucas. (Ito 2020c)
*Click here for Transcription

Figure 15. Photography and measurement for the digital review, Atsunori Ito (left) and Kathy Dougherty (right) of the Burke Museum measures the items at the Cultural Resources Center of the National Museum of the American Indian, Suitland, Maryland, USA. (April 19, 2017, photo by Mirei Ito)

Figure 16. A Silver Bracelet (“A1713.26” of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science)(September 14, 2016, photo by Atsunori Ito)


Film 5. “Digital (indirect) review” by Merle Namoki, Candice Lomahaftewa, Delwyn "Spyder" Tawvaya, Cordell Sakeva, Darrin Kuwanhongva, Yvette Talaswaima, Gerald Lomaventema on a silver bracelet (“A1713.26” of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science). (Ito 2020d)
*Click here for Transcription


What the collection review participants from the source community say about the objects varies depending on their gender, age, how much they were involved in the production processes, how often they used them, and place of residence as well as the environment in which they were raised. Through their gestures, expressions, local language and dialect, and humorous stories, the collection reviewers hoped that the objects themselves, comments by a community member, and the Hopi's worldview would be "watched," "listened to," "enjoyed," and "understood" especially by their next generations. Documentation of these communications reflected a complex, diverse, and changing knowledge of the museum objects. The full collection review was recorded by digital video and the documentation will be curated by the Museum.


It is fair to say that this approach is fundamentally different from the conventional way of writing (inputting) "scientific" aspects of the objects or collectively representing the characteristics of an ethnic group. The accumulation of new information has resulted in a valuable irreplaceable narrative documentation of people’s memories and experiences that puts a spotlight on the presence of the diversity of the source community and the individualities of the objects.


We are sharing results with not only scholars, but also with the source community as the primary users. A leading Hopi jeweler, Gerald Lomaventema, is already using the images, text, and “hands on” collection visits to revive mid-20th century and earlier jewelry techniques, designs, tools, and raw materials, and to teach young Hopi students not only jewelry arts, but also lessons in Hopi language, a no-drug no-alcohol lifeway, and how to earn a living on the reservation. Gerald and students used old (1940s) jewelry from the Museum of Northern Arizona and some other teammate museums as inspiration for new creations. The artists travel to MNA and even to historical sites to feel and find connections with their ancestors through artifacts and landscapes (Film 6) (Figure 17) (Film 7) (Figure 18, Film 8) (Figure 19, Film 9).


Film 6. Gerald Lomaventema offers his gratitude to MNA and his remarks on the “Reconnecting Project.” (Ito 2020e)
*Click here for Transcription

Figure 17. After museum collections reviews, Gerald Lomaventema (right) revives coin ingot and some other old techniques with his students
(January 19, 2017, photo by Atsunori Ito)


Film 7. Delwyn “Spyder” Tawvaya introduced himself and offers his gratitude to his mentor Gerald Lomaventema. (Ito 2020f)
*Click here for Transcription

Figure 18. A Mimbres pottery depiction of a crane (“1980.17.476” of the New Mexico State University Museum) (August 25, 2017, photo by Atsuori Ito)


Film 8. Gerald Lomaventema explains his interpretation of a Mimbres pottery depiction of a crane (“1980.17.476” of the New Mexico State University Museum) at the Mimbres Workshops 2017 (Ito 2019a)
*Click here for Transcription

Figure 19. Gerald Lomaventema’s new creation inspired by a Mimbres pottery design (“2018.01.02” of the New Mexico State University Museum) (October 21, 2018, photo by Atsunori Ito)


Film 9. Coin ingot “Atokuku Bolo tie” is Gerald Lomaventema’s new creation inspired by a Mimbres pottery design (“2018.01.02” of the New Mexico State University Museum) (Ito 2019b)
*Click here for Transcription