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Mountain, Family, Spirit: The Arts and Culture of the Ute Indians


The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum welcomes the first ever comprehensive exhibition on the Ute Indians of Colorado -- Mountain, Family, Spirit: The Arts and Culture of the Ute Indians. The national traveling exhibition is the result of a collaboration between members of the Southern Ute tribe, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and the Ute Mountain Ute tribe. The collection features objects exemplifying the rich traditional arts of the Ute tribe fiom the 17th to the 20th centuries and will be on exhibit October 12 - December 31, 2002 in the museum's Grayce B. Kerr Gallery. (left: Ute basket)

Mountain, Family, Spirit provides an overview of Ute history, culture, and arts, including traditional costumes, beadwork, hair ornaments, paintings on hide and muslin, painted leather shields, weapons, baskets, and other items. Seven years in the making, the collection consists of 140 historic and 40 contemporary works chosen by a curatorial committee comprised of members from the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.

After examining 2,000 artifacts of Ute origin, the committee selected pieces from the collections of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, Colorado Historical Society, and other prominent museum and private collections from across the United States, best symbolizing the culture of the Ute tribe. The exhibit is divided into thematic sections that focus an continuity and change in Ute culture and traditions over time.

Mike Leslie, Curator of Ethnology for the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, describes Mountain, Family, Spirit as the first exhibition to focus on the Ute Indians. "The history and culture of the Ute people are an integral part of a larger Native American community," Leslie said. "However, their story is commonly overlooked or treated only in passing when developing exhibitions on Mountain, Family, Spirit: The Arts and Culture of the Ute Indians, is the first major traveling exhibition to focus solely on the Ute people." (right: gallery view image from previous exhibition of Mountain, Family, Spirit: The Arts and Culture of the Ute Indians)

Historically, the Utes are one of the most important tribes associated with the American Southwest. Their geographical location placed them in an optimum situation for interaction with many tribes from the Great Basin, Plains, and Southwest, and as a result, they incorporated and relayed the cultural traditions and arts of these various tribes and later those of Hispanic and Anglo-American traders.

Approximately 7,500 Ute people live in Colorado and Utah maintaining only a little more than 838,000 acres of their original reserve of 56 million acres. Today, the Ute Indians are found on three reservations, two in Colorado and one in Utah, but prior to the American occupation of the West in the late 1840s, the Ute Indians occupied more than 130,000 square miles that also encompassed parts of northern New Mexico. The Ute Indian tribe is made up from various bands which once lived in these different regions.

The Southern Ute tribe, headquartered in Ignacio, Colorado, was formed fiom the Mouache and Capote bands who lived in Colorado and New Mexico along the Front Range and in the San Luis Valley, and ranged into northern New Mexico. The Ute Mountain Ute tribe, headquartered in the Four Corners area at Towaoc, Colorado, was formed primarily from the Weeminuche band that originally occupied the valley of the San Juan River and its tributaries in Colorado and northwestern New Mexico. A smaller group of Utes associated with the Ute Mountain reservation live at White Mesa in southeastern Utah.

The northern Ute bands of Colorado included the Uncompahgre (Tabeguache) and the White River (Parianuche and Yampa). In 1880 they were forced to move to northern Utah where they share the Uintah-Ouray reservation at Fort Duchesne with the Uintah and other Ute bands originally from different places in Utah.

Although the Ute Indians are made up of several different bands, they share a common language and culture. The Utes speak a language that is part of the larger Uto-Aztecan language family, which is the source of most native languages of the Great Basin of the United States and extending into Mexico and Central America. The Ute language belongs to a branch linguists call Southern Numic or Shoshonean.

The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive 256-page full color catalogue, available for purchase in the museum store.

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