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Margaret Tafoya, “Wedding Vase,” 20th century, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of the Reiter Family (photo © Museum Associates/LACMA)

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has been gifted a trove of 109 Indigenous American works from the Reiter Family Collection that chronicles important developments in Native Southwest artistic traditions. The gift includes 82 Southwestern ceramic pieces as well as paintings and drawings, Pomo feather baskets, carvings from the Pacific Northwest, and ancient Meso- and Central American artworks.

The collection is a testament to the resurgence of ancient Pueblo techniques, styles, and motifs in the late 19th and 20th centuries, a lineage exemplified by the renowned Hopi-Tewa potter Nampeyo of Hano. Inspired by Sikyatki ceramic fragments found in the Hopi First Mesa, where many inhabitants of Tewa Pueblo took refuge during the Spanish invasion in the 1690s, Nampeyo achieved a unique synthesis of her ancestors’ motifs and her own designs nearly 400 years later. Pots made by her descendants, Fannie Nampeyo, as well as living artists Dextra Nampeyo and Steve Lucas, evince the continuation of these visual languages into the present.

Also included in the Reiter Family donation are a group of pots from neighboring Indigenous peoples of the Southwest, including the Santa Clara Pueblo, known for its polished blackware and red polychromic pottery. A wedding vase by 20th-century Santa Clara artist Margaret Tafoya is adorned with a deep relief carving of the Avanyu serpent, the Tewa guardian of water.

The gift comes at a time of rising museum and gallery interest in Native artwork, but also an increased awareness of its circulation and commercialization in non-Indigenous art market circuits to the possible detriment of Native communities. This week, members of the Osage Nation decried the auction of a cave in Missouri containing prehistoric Native American paintings on its wall. Dubbed “the most important rock art site in North America,” the cave was sold by Selkirk Auctioneers for $2.2 million to a private buyer.

A LACMA spokesperson told Hyperallergic that the works in the Reiter gift were acquired “via the artists and/or their descendants directly, as well as secondary market, auction, or gallery.” According to a press release, the Reiters began their collection with contemporary works purchased from the Santa Fe Indian Market and other venues in the 1980s and later worked their way backward, acquiring earlier and more historical pieces.

“The Reiter Family collections are both historically and institutionally significant in several regards,” the museum said in a statement. “Many of these works represent seminal moments when the Indigenous peoples of the Southwest began recuperating their traditional culture and integrating themselves into the Western art world.”

“In promising these works to LACMA, the Reiters wish to share with the wider public the powerful stories and artistic legacies of Indigenous American artists that so inspired them.”

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...

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