Peabody Native American Pottery Collection Educates Students About Indigenous Culture

Dominique Toya, Pueblo of Jemez, working with students here on
campus in Thayer Zaeder’s ceramics classes in previous years.

The Peabody aims to collect contemporary pottery pieces that engage in conversations with history.
For a History 200 class on the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, for instance, the Peabody displays the ceramic tile
(front center) by artist Jason Garcia-Okuu Pin, Pueblo of Santa Clara, who depicts the leader of the
revolt in a comic book art style.

From pieces fired on campus by accomplished Pueblo of Jemez potter Dominique Toya to humorous ancient vessels depicting a dog’s behind, the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology hosts an extensive collection of pottery made by Indigenous artists. Earlier this month, director of the Peabody Dr. Ryan Wheeler gave a presentation on Native American pottery to students in Dr. Sarah Driscoll’s English 300 class. Wheeler discussed this unique opportunity of incorporating archaeological pieces into the classroom.

“We love being able to share the collection with students. As far as we know, Andover is unique in having an archaeology institution museum like the Peabody on campus, and so being able to put parts of the collection into the curriculum is really important to us,” said Wheeler.

Many pieces from the Peabody’s collection have been incorporated into various courses at Andover, the most recent being with Driscoll’s English 300. From her very first year working at Andover, Driscoll has worked closely with the Peabody on a number of occasions. She discussed the importance of Wheeler’s talk, specifically how the pottery Wheeler presented conveyed the vibrance of Indigenous culture to students.

“It’s really about making it an unforgettable experience and ensuring that students really put Indigenous peoples front and center in our minds, you know, forever, really, in a long term way…Ryan Wheeler’s talk, I think, just having those visuals, understanding number one that Indigenous people have created these incredible art pieces that we looked at, but also are currently creating also and connecting really well with the ideas that we’ve looked at,” said Driscoll.

Wheeler presented some of his favorite pieces—vessels made by Toya and her mother Maxine Toya, with whom the Peabody previously collaborated —to students. Overall, Wheeler enjoys pottery that evokes personal connection, such as pieces with fingerprints and signatures that humanize otherwise anonymous vessels. Amber Chou ’24, a student in Driscoll’s English 300 class, echoed this sentiment when talking about Maria Martinez’s vessels, which were also included in Wheeler’s presentation.

“I really enjoyed learning about Native American pottery, and I especially enjoyed learning about a specific artist named Maria Martinez…And it was also a cute detail to see how she signed her name and her husband’s name under each of her pieces, it just seems a little more personal, but also just it feels a little more special to know the artist who made the work,” said Chou.

Contemporary Indigenous potters craft pieces using both ancient traditions and novel techniques, with each generation adding something new to their practice of pottery. There is a unique story behind each handcrafted vessel; as such, Wheeler stated that there is no one monolithic reason why pottery is important to Native culture. Rather, he emphasized the evolving and dynamic nature of Indigenous art.

“Their techniques and materials are often really rooted in these ancient traditions that go back thousands of years, in terms of the materials that they’re collecting, the techniques that they’re using, but then they’re coming up with these innovations that kind of make the pieces that they’re making their own. I think I’m always really struck by that combination of tradition, but also these innovations,” said Wheeler.

However, Native Americans are often misrepresented in the media, labeled as part of the past despite the fact that there are countless, thriving Native communities today. Wheeler hopes to fight these stereotypes by sharing the Peabody’s diverse collection of Indigenous art with students—which, in addition to pottery, includes glass work, photography, graphic comic-book style art, computer-generated art, and more.

“I think we always try to emphasize there are still Native people here today, and they’re parts of really active, vibrant, alive communities that are maintaining their traditions, but also very much part of the modern world…. I love the sort of modern aspect because it kind of pushes back on that notion that Native people are gone, or extinct or kind of part of the past and not part of the now,” said Wheeler.

Looking ahead, Driscoll recently confirmed the details for Ramson Lomatewama, a Hopi glass artist, to come to campus from Arizona on October 10 for Indigenous People’s Day, running art and writing workshops for students. Driscoll emphasized how her relationship with the Peabody helped her pursue her educational goals.

“They actually committed years to, you know, supporting my educational efforts, honestly. I literally would not have been able to have Ramson in here as many times as I did without them. It just shows that I think museums play a pivotal role on campus in terms of supporting teachers and what they do in the classroom,” said Driscoll.