Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian

The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian is a wonderful institution, located at 704 Camino Lejo. Founded in 1937 by a wealthy scholar named Mary Cabot Wheelwright, this museum in Santa Fe New Mexico focuses on Native American art and religion. The founder was aided in her creation of the Wheelwright Museum by a Navajo medicine man named Hastiin Klah, whom she first met in 1921. The two main collaborators went to task recording important cultural milestones like the Navajo Creation Story, and among the first objects that they added to their museum collection included recreations of Navajo sandpaintings. These paintings feature intricate designs and are created during religious ceremonies. During these same ceremonies, the sandpaintings are destroyed. The recreated versions at the Wheelwright Museum Santa Fe most often come in the form of paintings in tempera and tapestries, and some were created by Klah himself.

Mary Cabot Wheelwright was born in Boston in 1878, and thanks in part to the wealth of her family, she was able to travel extensively. Fascinated by the study of religions, Wheelwright was no doubt impressed by Hastiin Klah when the two first met. For decades, Klah, who was born in 1867, saw his people and culture suffer at the hands of the United States government, and his main fear was that traditional Navajo religious practices might be lost forever. By the 1930s, both Wheelwright and Klah decided that the creation of a museum would help preserve Navajo religious culture, and over time, the focus came to embrace Native American cultures on the whole. The various objects that are on display relate to different themes, and since the exhibits change throughout the year, repeat visitors can often expect to enjoy fresh content.

Regardless of when you visit the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, there will be plenty of great artifacts to see. Navajo rugs both old and new often figure among the highlights, and depending on the exhibit, you might have the chance to learn more about Native American basket making or any other number of topics. Chances are good that the museum will have some of its amazing pottery on display, and your visit might coincide with an exhibit that showcases jewelry from the Pueblo and Navajo peoples. Complementing the main gallery exhibitions are smaller exhibition shows that highlight the works of current Native American artists. Special events, such as storytelling sessions, are also offered on a regular basis and only add to the appeal of a visit. The storytelling sessions, it should be noted, are very popular and are offered on Saturday and Sunday evenings between mid-July and mid-August. Admission to these shows is free.

Admission to the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian is free as well, so you don't have to pay to enjoy the artwork either. That being said, donations are welcome and it is customary to offer some kind of monetary support. The general operating hours of the Wheelwright Museum Santa Fe are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Docent tours are offered throughout the year, so you might check the schedule for times when planning to add one to the mix. When you are finished with your docent-guided or self-guided tour at the Wheelwright Museum, you might visit the arts and crafts shop to see what's on offer. This shop specializes in Southwestern Indian art, and its design was inspired by the old trading posts from the region.

The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian can be found on Santa Fe's renowned Museum Hill. Close by are other cultural institutions of high repute. These institutions include the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the Museum of International Folk Art, as well as several others. Suffice it to say that cultural enthusiasts can satisfy hours on end in this part of Santa Fe.

Image: BFS Man (flickr)

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