Since 2001, Lucy Fowler Williams has worked with Pueblo embroiderers to study the production, use, and meaning of Pueblo ceremonial cloth. In 2015 she served as guest curator at the Poeh Museum and Cultural Center, Pojoaque Pueblo, New Mexico. The tribe asked for her help in mounting an exhibition of the work of two textile artists: Isabel Gonzales of Jemez/San Ildefonso Pueblos and Shawn Tafoya of Santa Clara Pueblo. For Williams, this was a special opportunity to support her Pueblo colleagues while observing the nuanced presentation of Pueblo cloth within a tribal museum. She traveled to Pojoaque to help gather 55 garments now owned by Pueblo families, to help plan, and write labels and text panels. Paths of Beauty: Isabel Gonzales and Shawn Tafoya ran from August 20 –November 16, 2015. The exhibit was developed primarily for a Pueblo audience and emphasized cloth in its lived contexts as expressions of Pueblo prayer. Pueblo textiles represent the garments of the gods and mark sacred domain. Embroidered with motifs that signify prayers for rain and other blessings, Pueblo people make and wear them today, as they have for hundreds of years, during annual religious events and to mark life achievements and milestones. The exhibit combined ritual and wedding garments with text and video. Notably, the artists constructed an interior house alter to show how cloth is used to create the appropriate space for prayer to Catholic saints and Pueblo spirits. For the opening, the cultural center was decorated with fresh lavender, sunflowers, corn stalks, fruits and vegetables, and freshly baked bread and pies to feed the spirits; a Catholic Mass was held in the gallery for the artists and their extended families, and 400 community members were served a traditional Pueblo feast. Throughout the process, there was no clear division between the secular and the sacred as the tribal museum was transformed into a space for prayer and community celebration.
Lucy Fowler Williams, PhD, is Associate Curator and Jeremy A. Sabloff Senior Keeper of American Collections at the Penn Museum. A cultural anthropologist, she received her PhD from Penn and her MA from the University of New Mexico, and has worked at Penn Museum for 25 years. Her recent projects include the Museum’s Native American Voices: The People Here and Now exhibition (2014), and the creation (along with many Penn and Alaskan colleagues) of the Louis Shotridge Tlingit Digital Archive (2011). Her publications include the essay Louis Shotridge: Preserver of Tlingit History and Culture in Sharing Our Knowledge: The Tlingit and Their Coastal Neighbors (Kan 2015), the special edited volume of Expedition Native American Voices: Contemporary Themes of Sovereign Nations (Winter 2013), WaHŭ-belash adi Kwan tsáawä/Butterflies and Blue Rain – the Language of Contemporary Eastern Pueblo Embroidery, co-authored with Isabel C. Gonzales and Shawn Tafoya (Expedition, 2007); the coedited volume Objects of Everlasting Esteem: Native American Voices on Identity, Art, and Culture (2005 with Wierzbowski and Preucel), and Guide to the North American Ethnographic Collections of the University of Pennsylvania Museum (2003). She has received Fellowships and Grants from the School of American Research, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the Annenberg Family Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Penn Museum. Chair of the Museum’s NAGPRA Committee, she also serves as an advisor for the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative at Penn. She is especially interested in indigenous textiles, the work of museums, and in practicing collaborative anthropology that supports tribal communities.