IDABEL, Okla. — Dozens of Central and South American artifacts now displayed at Museum of the Red River offer insight into life there as far back as 1000 B.C.
The exhibit "Precolumbian Lifeways" features artifacts organized into various ethnological categories. Now up at the museum, it runs through Dec. 6 before moving elsewhere.
"Precolumbian Lifeways" includes not only a few treasures from the MoRR collection, but also the private collections of Drs. Ernesto and Luisa Lira and Dr. Richard and Nancy Weiss. Those lenders are museum donors.Gallery: MoRR exhibit gives Precolumbian insights
Museum of the Red River Quintus H. Herron Director Henry Moy said the majority of the work originates from the private collections with a handful of objects from the MoRR collection to broaden what's offered.
"This exhibit primarily focuses on Mesoamerica, but we've sort of jumped into both the American Southwest as well as also in South America," Moy said. "But it's primarily Mexico to Panama."
The exhibit mirrors the MoRR collection, but most of these objects, being a part of private collections, have hitherto never been publicly presented. The research curator Dr. Frederick W. Lange organized this exhibit.
To that end, they appear in this exhibit with the theme of "lifeways," according to the MoRR's philosophy and what these 58 objects tell us about domestic life, beliefs, encounters and then technology and art, Moy said. The time span stretches to 1500 A.D.
"Some of them are really great examples of their kind of artifacts in terms of material and craftsmanship and how old it is, all of that," Moy said. "A lot of important pieces."
Much of the work is ceramic, as it's one of the great archaeological inventions by humans, even if such works often wind up as what are called sherds, which are fragments of brittle artifacts.
"Ceramics, No. 1, last forever, and No. 2, break really easily," Moy said. But last, they do.
The span covered by the exhibit starts with roughly the first serious appearance of ceramics all the way up to interaction with Europeans. Moy said their aim is to make the work available for anyone who appreciates and studies Precolumbian art. A catalog publication is planned for the exhibit, too.
We can examine things from many perspectives, Moy said. "That's why we do these exhibits," he said.
In the case of "art," there's realistic versus abstract with its stylized appearance, and then there are canonical attributes to works that allow researchers to identify an object. Many of the objects they have exhibited are out of context, though, because their exact origin and creator isn't known.
"To try and identify where these objects are from, you look at the attributes in an artistic way," Moy said. For example, attributes may indicate an object is from Western Mexico, for example, even if you can't pinpoint an exact province or site within a country.
After looking at enough variety of such artifacts, these things can be discovered.
"Really the art is the local aesthetic, if you will, how the local people decorated or used their items in a decorative way," Moy said.
He points out, though, there's always the argument over whether something is art or just pretty. With African art, in certain languages or tongues there is no word for "art," he observed. It's a different cultural perspective.
"It's because art and their aesthetic canon was in everything that they make," Moy said. There was no separate word to indicate art for art's sake, which is more of a Western concept. There's no reason to have a separate word, in this example.
Art can have a utilitarian purpose, but to identify it specifically can be a challenge, Moy said. For example, might an artifact might be a portrait of somebody used as part of a ritual or ceremony, or is it more likely to be shown in a certain location like portraits we think of now?
"You have to hypothesize what it was possibly used for based on other ones that have been found and written about," Moy said. Context is key. Unless it's written down, archaeologists may not know.
"If you look at art history, most cultures, societies historically have identifiable traits in their aesthetic. Their aesthetics are partially determined by their environment, how they grew up and what nature looked like and whatnot will affect how things look and then what their neighbors are doing," Moy said.
What does Moy hope visitors gain from seeing and experiencing "Precolumbian Lifeways"?
"This is one of the few occasions, few opportunities, certainly for our visitors that they'll be exposed to the many cultures that were active over this 2,000 year time span before Europeans came to the Americas," Moy said, noting the exhibit is broad in terms of the number of both cultures represented and great examples of what these cultures produced.
After its time at MoRR, the exhibit will move to the Museum of the Southwest in Midland, Texas, and then to the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art in Shawnee, Oklahoma.
(On the Net: MuseumoftheRedRiver.org. The MoRR is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. More info: 580-286-3616.)