- The Magazine
- Current Issue
- Events & Shows
- Web Extras
- Yellow Pages
Under One Sky and Rock Art Perspectives exhibits give insight into Nevada’s past.
Photo: Courtesy of Nevada State Museum, Carson City
The cultures of the Great Basin’s ancient and modern native inhabitants are explored in two intriguing exhibits at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.
The permanent Under One Sky exhibit, a unique collaboration of museum experts and representatives of three Nevada tribes—Washoe, Western Shoshone, and Northern Paiute—views native life from 11,000 years ago to the present. Under One Sky was closed for 18 months and reopened following the construction of the museum’s new visitor entrance, the Dema Guinn Concourse. The jewel in this exhibit is a surprisingly well-preserved 10,000-year-old sagebrush sandal.
Rock Art Perspectives: Pictographs and Petroglyphs presents photographs, watercolors, mixed-media works, sculptures, and drawings of images originally painted or etched on rock walls or boulders in the Great Basin, California, Columbia River Gorge and the Southwest. The exhibition text by artists and archaeologists delves into the meanings of the various symbols. Rock Art Perspectives is on loan from the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, and funded by the Bureau of Land Management in Lakeview, Oregon.
Visitors will find a relation between the traveling show and the permanent displays, says Curator of Education Deborah Stevenson. “We all walk under one sky,” she explains. “We all have the same feelings and emotions. We are trying to survive in this harsh land. It’s not all that different from 10,000 years ago. That’s the lesson of Under One Sky, and that’s the lesson of the rock art exhibit. We share a common humanity.”
In a dimly lit display case in Under One Sky, the 10,000-year-old sandal is missing only its ties. The sandal is made of twined sagebrush bark with a flap in front of the toes that is pulled up and tied securely. The case also shows basket fragments and arrowheads dating to between 7,000 and 12,000 years ago, the tools of people who lived in a desert environment.
The sandal belongs to the Fort Rock Style, so called because examples of this footwear were first discovered in Fort Rock Cave in Oregon. They are probably the oldest shoes in existence. “We have the fourth-oldest sandal in the world,” says Dr. Pat Barker, a museum research associate who retired as the Nevada State archaeologist for BLM and is president of the Nevada Rock Art Foundation.. The museum possesses about 50 items recognizable as sandals and 200 additional fragments. Some of the sandals bear the marks of their wearers’ toes, giving a personal touch to the artifacts. Different types of sandals from different time periods are found in Northern and Southern Nevada.
But it’s not only about how old the artifacts are. “It’s the story behind the artifacts that, to me, are the most poignant,” says Stevenson, who earned her bachelor’s degree in art and a master’s in anthropology. “The same goes for the rock art exhibit. Every culture in the world has art. We have a need for beauty. Creating beauty in images and designs is what makes us human.”
Bill Cannon, archaeologist for the BLM Lakeview District, assembled Rock Art Perspectives: Pictographs and Petroglyphs with selections from eight artists and scholars who, through their individual media, offer their perceptions of rock art and its meaning.
Artist Melissa Melero is a member of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe. Her abstract mixed-media images echo western Nevada petroglyphs and images from basketry and beadwork. Crosses, which depict the four directions, and circles, representing the cycle of life, repeat in rows on canvas and wood. “I see these works as a personal collaboration of my culture, individual development, and curious expression of the world around me,” Melero says in the exhibit text. Melero and her mother were co-curators on the Under One Sky exhibit. She now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
David Muench’s photos of petroglyphs in Grapevine Canyon and central Nevada show the variety of symbols at Nevada sites. Bighorn sheep tend to be found frequently as are circles, squiggly lines, tally marks and dots. In the Grapevine Canyon photo, petroglyphs overlooking the stream have a curved line that seems to imitate the water’s flow. Water was a life-giving resource for the desert inhabitants.
There are two kinds of images: petroglyphs, which are chipped or carved into stone, and pictographs, which are painted and thus more vulnerable to weathering. “The wonderful thing about rock art,” Stevenson says, “is that it relates to symbols which, by their very nature, have many voices or meanings that have changed over time. Your interpretation is as good as mine.”
As in the Under One Sky exhibit, the native perspective is presented in text. “Some Native Americans,” reads a text panel, “do not like the term rock art and feel it is inappropriate. They feel the images were made as part of ceremonies, rituals or events to convey messages and meanings.”
Harry Fonseca’s rock art-inspired paintings, prints, and sketchbook attest to his research into his Nisenen Maidu heritage, says museum anthropologist Gene Hattori. One of Fonseca’s “Sun King” paintings dominates the gallery. Lillian Pitts is a well-known sculptor and mixed-media artist who takes inspiration from her Wasco, Yakima, and Warm Springs ancestry. Her Tsagaglal (She Who Watches) sculpture in copper and lead crystal keeps an eye on visitors as they enter the gallery.
Other artists in the show are Mary Ricks, who is also a longtime archaeologist, and Carolyn Boyd, who argues that the giant pictographs found along the Lower Pecos River in Texas represent shamanic hallucinations. There are also works by noted landscape photographers Michael Frye and Alain Briot.
The exhibit, Stevenson says, is more than simply images of rock art. “It should appeal to people interested in ancient and modern art, Native American culture, and history. There are explanations about rock art, including Native American perspectives, plus information about how to behave respectfully at rock art sites.”
Under One Sky
This permanent exhibit looks at American Indian cultures from 11,000 years ago to the current day. Featured are oral histories and origin stories told by elders of the Washoe, Western Shoshone and Northern Paiute tribes; an archaeological gallery that has explanations of ancient artifacts from museum experts and American Indians, who can disagree on certain topics; a reproduction of a cave dig showing layers of habitation over thousands of years; a simulated marsh; and a gallery with oral histories, photos and objects relating to Stewart Indian School.
Rock Art Perspectives: Pictographs and Petroglyphs
The exhibit will continue through May 1, 2010. A free reception with light refreshments is planned January 21, 5 to 7:30 p.m. Museum Curator of Education Deborah Stevenson says there will be at least four monthly programs featuring scholars and artists from the show. For details, call her at 775-687-4810, extension 237, or Registrar/History Sue Ann Monteleone at extension 240. Many of the artworks are for sale.
Nevada State Museum, Carson City
600 N. Carson St.
Open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Wed.-Sat.
$6 adults, $4 seniors, free for members and children younger than 18