At first, it might seem a bit strange that a significant collection of 20th-century Pueblo Indian pottery is being shown at the Rockwell Museum of Western Art in Corning, New York -- 2,000 miles from its place of origin. How did this come to be? A partial answer may be found in the widespread appeal of the potter's craft, but I think it relates primarily to the lives of three prolific art collectors and how their shared passion somehow converged in this small-but-cosmopolitan place.
The outstanding collection of Southwestern pottery that this catalogue records is the accomplishment of two collectors-Alan and Nancy Cameros of Rochester, New York. They amassed a stunning collection of glass art through the years, but during annual holidays in Taos, New Mexico, they also became aware of the artistry of contemporary pueblo potters, who have infused ancient techniques with new creativity and artistic power. The exhibition of the Cameros collection at the Rockwell Museum demonstrates the enthusiasm and admiration that they have developed for the products of many of the most talented and respected pueblo potters of the past 125 years.
The Rockwell Museum is the product of another prolific collector, Bob Rockwell, whose interest in the art and culture of the American West was awakened in childhood. He grew up on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, where he was surrounded by artifacts of the "Wild West." He could walk the fields and find arrowheads and other artifacts of cultures that had nearly disappeared from the landscape, but there were undoubtedly many around him who recalled when Indians lived there. These experiences sparked in him a fascination with objects of the West, both artifacts of the Indians and the cowboys and pictures and sculptures that evoked the not-so-distant past.
Family connections eventually brought Bob Rockwell east to New York, but he did not leave the West behind. When he assumed ownership of his uncle's department store in downtown Corning, he began to fill it with treasures ranging from petrified dinosaur dung to paintings by Remington and Russell. It was a cabinet of curiosities (in the Renaissance sense of collected things -- natural and man-made -- that evoke wonder), and it became a magnet for visitors from across the country. Beginning in 1976, the new Rockwell Museum began exhibiting many of those objects. Today, they continue to enthrall visitors from around the world in an expanded setting dedicated to Bob's love for Western art.
Like Bob Rockwell and the Cameros family, I feel a shared connection to Upstate New York, to the art of the American West, and to pueblo pottery. I grew up in Denver, and my family's collections included a box of Indian arrowheads, axes, and pottery. Among the stories that I heard from my grandparents and mother, many were about Indians. My grandparents, who also lived for a time on Colorado's western slope, recalled seeing the famous Utes, Chief Ouray and his wife, Chipeta, and they told me of the ancient dwellings at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. These experiences awakened in me the interests that Bob Rockwell, the Cameroses, and I share today.
My wife and I moved to Corning in 1973, where I was associated with the Corning Museum of Glass and the Rockwell Museum. Before long, we began traveling to Santa Fe nearly every summer. We fell under the spell of the dramatic landscape, intense sun, brilliant turquoise sky, great food, stunning opera house, and ancient pueblo villages and cultures nearby. My boyhood disease of collecting, long dormant, went into full relapse as we began to acquire and study pueblo pottery. We retired to Santa Fe in 1999, and since that time we have become increasingly focused on studying pueblo pottery. Three books and several articles have resulted, with more on the way.
This brings me back to my original question: "Why would a collection of this nature end up on display in Corning, New York?" Some of the answers are obvious: family connections, family histories, and careers that are unrelated to collecting interests. But it is impossible to dismiss the unusual qualities and character of this small community. Corning may be somewhat physically isolated, but its residents are worldly in their ambitions and outlook. Corning is, in some ways, similar to Santa Fe. Interesting and interested people are drawn to them, both as visitors and as residents, and that is what keeps both places so vibrant, exciting, and satisfying. In other words, it is an ideal setting for the Cameros Collection of Southwestern pottery to find its audience, which in this case is not defined geographically but instead by a concentration of people who share an appreciation of artistry, craftsmanship, and an interest in what ancient traditions can tell us about the past and about life today. By displaying a collection that is so rich and diverse, the Rockwell Museum of Western Art contributes to the cultural enrichment of Corning's residents and its visitors. Pueblo pottery, as an art form, also benefits when it is treated as the Rockwell Museum treats it-as high art that merits serious attention anywhere in the world. Finally, by staging special exhibitions such as Crafted to Perfection: The Nancy & Alan Cameros Collection of Southwestern Pottery, the museum complements its own collections and enhances the quality of life in an amazing city that my wife and I enjoyed for 19 years and today remember fondly.
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