Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

CERAMICS -- Generations in Clay [Dittert] -- The Mimbres Art and Archaeology [Fewkes] -- Mimbres Painted Pottery [Brody]
The Mogollen Mimbres Culture [Resources]

Fewkes, Jesse Walter. The Mimbres Art and Archaeology with an Introduction by J.J. Brody. Albuguerque, New Mexico: Avanyu Publishing, Inc. 1989. [A reprint of three papers . . . . Published by the Smithsonian Institution between 1914 and 1924.]

The Mimbres Art and
Archaeology


The Mimbres Indians remained basically unknown and unstudied by scholars until Jesse Walter Fewkes [1850-1930] published his essays in the early 1920s. Yet, very little interest was shown between the 1920s and 1970s, a half century of indifference.... p. vii



I N D E X - The Mimbres Indians - The Mimbres Culture - Investigations - Pictographs - Stone Idols - Pottery - Form and Colors - Pictures on Mimbres Pottery - Group of Hunters - Designs on Prehistoric Pottery, From the Mimbres Valley - Additional Designs on Prehistoric Mimbres Pottery


The Mimbres Culture
The Mimbres people were a branch of the Mogollon culture and their art was related in many ways to that of their Hohokam and Anasazi neighbors. Yet Fewkes wrote of the Mimbres as a river rather than a people, of the Mogollon as a mountain range rather than a culture, and the words Anasazi and Hohokam do not appear in any of these papers. The outlines of southwestern prehistory were sketchy in 1914 and still unclear a decade later. It was not until 1927 that archaeologists reached broad agreement on terminology, and on an outline of the culture history of the northern part of the southwest, which we now call the Anasazi district. The southern parts remained problematic until the late 1930s when culture sequences were first proposed for what we now call the Mogollon and Hohokam regions. The Mimbres people thereafter were considered to be one of several branches of Mogollon culture.

. . . . about 1972 . . . . a new, fruitful, and still on-going campaign of archaeological investigations began. Excavations by local, amateur archaeologists and pot collectors never ended, but must be distinguished from the entirely destructive and sometimes criminal looting by professional pot-hunters that started in the 1960s when Mimbres art first became a valued commodity on the world art market. [p. 4-5]

He [Fewkes] shared with virtually all later investigators the desire to identify Mimbres painted images with real world animals. And, like everyone else, he was occasionally embarrassed because Mimbres artists very often were deliberately ambiguous in their representations. Even Fewkes, the trained naturalist, identifies a frog as a turtle, and insects as birds. Of greater interest was his curious [p. 7] tolerance for morphological errors such as the creature he identifies as a bat despite its feathered wing. His insistence upon a literal, worldly interpretation of Mimbres iconography may have blinded him to its rich metaphors which hide clues to mythic traditions that most likely were comparable to those he found so stimulating at Hopi.

Most Mimbres paintings and all that were known to Fewkes are on the inner surfaces of hemispherical bowls that are about two and a half times wider tan they are deep. They are portable, kinetic, and have no fixed vertical axis-no top or bottom. All two-dimensional images of them must distort their visual qualities, especially if the vertical axis is made static as on a printed page . . . .

When reproduced two-dimensionally, the focal point of a painting often appears to be in the center of its hemispherical picture space even though it may actually be on the upper walls . . . . [p. 7-8]


Investigations Among institutions involved in Mimbres archaeological investigations during the 1920s were the School of American Research, Museum of New Mexico, Peabody Museum of Harvard University, Beloit College, Univ. of Minnesota, and Southwest Museum in Los Angeles. Each was motivated to some degree by a desire to collect Mimbres art, but all published monographs and papers that placed the art in historic and social contexts. The Mimbres publications of Wesley Bradfield, Harriet and Cornelius Cosgrove, and Paul Nesbitt were especially important, building upon, refining, and modifying Fewkes' pioneering work. They provided data bases and contextual backgrounds for the much later interpretive and art historical studies of Mimbres art by Fred Kabotie, Pat Carr, and myself. [J. J. Brody, Professor of Art and Art History, Univ. of New Mexico.] p. 6.

Bradfield, Wesley. Cameron Creek Village, a Site in the Mimbres Area in Grant County, New Mexico. School of American Research, Santa Fe , 1929.

Cosgrove, Harriet S. and Cornelius B. The Swarts Ruin, A Typical Mimbres Site in Southwestern New Mexico. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archeology and Ethnology, Harvard University 15 [1], 1932.

Nesbitt, Paul H. The Ancient Mimbrenos, Based on Investigations at the Mattocks Ruin, Mimbres Valley, New Mexico. Logan Museum Bulletin 4, Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin, 1931. [from the Bibliography, p. 11]



Archeology of the Lower Mimbres Valley, New Mexico. By J. Walter Fewkes Publication 2316. City of Washington. Published by The Smithsonian Institution. 1914.
Pictographs
Pictographs occur at several localities along the Mimbres. As these have a general likeness to each other and differ from those of other regions, they are supposed to be characteristic of the prehistoric [p. 15] people. They are generally pecked on the sides of boulders or on the face of the cliffs in the neighborhood of prehistoric sites of dwellings. Although there is only a remote likeness between these pictographs and figures on pottery, several animal forms are common to the two.

The most important group of pictographs seen by the author are situated about nine miles from Deming in the Western foot-hills of Cook's Peak. Some of the pictographs recall decorations on bowls from Pajarito Park.

Another large collection of Mimbres pictographs, visited by the author, is found at Rock Canyon, three or four miles above Oldtown at a point where the cliffs approach the western bank of the river. On the river terrace not far above this collection of pictures, also on the right bank of the river, lies the extensive ruin of a prehistoric settlement, the walls of which project slightly above the surface. This ruin has been dug into at several points revealing several fine pieces of pottery, fragments of metates, and other implements, which are said to have been found in the rooms. A mile down the valley overlooking the river there is another cluster of pictures at a ruin called "Indian graveyard," probably because human skeletons have been dug out of the floors of rooms. [p. 15-16]


Stone Idols
The author saw several stone idols that were reported to have been obtained from ruins in the Mimbres Valley. These idols represent frogs, bears, mountain lions, and other quadrupeds, and have much the same form as those from ancient ruins in Arizona. [Similar stone idols from the San Pedro Valley and other localities, in Arizona and New Mexico, have mortar-like depressions on their backs.] On the backs of several of these stone idols are incised figures, like arrowheads tied to Zui fetishes, or possibly rain-cloud figures. In one instance they were made on an elevated ridge, which unfortunately was broken. The author has also seen several small amulets, perforated apparently for suspension . . . . p. 21


Pottery
Form and Colors
The comparatively large number of vases, food bowls, and other forms of decorated smooth ware in collections from the Mimbres is largely due to their use in mortuary customs, and the fact that almost without exception they were found placed over the skulls of the dead. Although the largest number of vessels are food bowls, there are also cups with twisted handles [braided], bowls, vases, dippers, and other ceramic forms found in pueblo ruins.

Coarse, undecorated vessels showing coils, indentations, superficial protuberances, and other rude decorations like those so well known in Southwestern ruins, are well represented. Some of these were [p. 22] used as cooking vessels, as shown by the soot still adhering to their outer surface. While the majority of bowls were broken in fragments when found, a few were simply pierced through the bottom; one or two were unbroken or simply notched at the edge.

The colors of Mimbres ware are uniform and often striking. There are good specimens of black and white ware; also red, black, and yellow with brown decorations are numerous. Some of the best pieces are colored a light orange. Many of the fragments are made of the finest paste identical in color and finish with ware from Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, which furnishes the best prehistoric pottery from the Southwest. No effigy jar, or animal formed vase, however, exists in any collections from the Mimbres examined by the author . . . .

The Mimbres pottery, like all other ancient ware from the Southwest, frequently shows evidences of having been mended. Holes were drilled near the breaks and fibers formerly united the parts thus holding the bowl together even though broken. As one goes south, following the course of the river, the character of the pottery changes very slightly, but if anything is a little better.

The food bowls generally have a rounded base, but one specimen is flat on the bottom. The edges of the bowls from the ruin at Black Mountain are curved outward, an exceptional feature in ancient Pueblo vessels but common in modern forms. [p. 22-23]


Pictures on Mimbres Pottery
The great value of the ceramic collection obtained from the Mimbres is the large number of figures representing men, animals, and characteristic geometrical designs, often highly conventionalized, depicted on their interiors. These figures sometimes cover a greater part of the inner surface, are often duplicated, and are commonly surrounded by geometrical designs or simple lines parallel with the outer rim of the vessel. It is important to notice the graceful way in which geometrical figures with which the ancient potters decorated their bowls are made to grade into the bodies of animals, as when animal figures become highly conventionalized into geometrical designs. Although these decorations are, as a rule, inferior to [p. 23] those of the Hopi ruin, Sikyatki, the figures of animals are more numerous, varied, and realistic.

The ancients represented on their food bowls men engaged in various occupations, such as hunting or ceremonial dances, and in that way have bequeathed to us a knowledge of their dress, their way of arranging their hair, weapons, and other objects adopted on such occasions. They have figured many animals accompanied by conventional figures which have an intimate relation to their cults and their social organization. Although limited in amount and imperfect in its teaching this material is most instructive.


Group of Hunters
An instructive group of human figures is drawn on a deep red and white food bowl, which measures ten inches in diameter. It is evident that this design represents three hunters following the trail of a horned animal, probably a deer. This trail is represented on the surface of the bowl by a row of triangles, with the footprints of the hunters extend along its side. It may be noted that although there are three hunters, the trails of two only are represented, and that the hunters are barefoot. They have perhaps lost the trail and [p. 24] are looking the opposite way, while the animal has turned back on his path. The footprints of the deer in advance of the hunters are tortuous, showing want of decision on the part of the animal. The three hunters are dressed alike, wearing the close-fitting jacket probably made of strips of skin woven together like that found by Dr. Hough in a sacrificial cave at the head of the Tulerosa, New Mexico. Each carries a bow and arrow in his right hand, and in his left a stick which the leader uses as a cane; the second hunter holds it by one end before him, and the third raises it aloft. These objects are supposed to represent either weapons or certain problematic wooden staffs with feathers attached, like divining rods, by which the hunters are in a magical way directed in their search. The first hunter "feels" for the lost trail by means of this rod.

An examination of the pictures of the arrows these hunters carry shows that each has a triangular appendage at the end representing feathers, and small objects, also feathers, tied to its very extremity. The hair of the third hunter appears to be a single coil hanging down the back, but in the other two it is tied in a cue at the back of the head. The eyes are drawn like the eyes on Egyptian paintings, that is, the eye as it appears in a front view is shown on the side of the head. The right shoulders of all are thrown out of position, in this feature recalling primitive perspective. The information conveyed by this prehistoric picture conforms with what is known from historical sources that the Mimbres Valley formerly abounded in antelopes, and we have here a representation of an aboriginal hunt. [p. 24-25]



Designs on Prehistoric Pottery, From the Mimbres Valley, New Mexico. By J. Walter Fewkes, Chief, Bureau of American Ethnology. Publication 2713, City of Washington. Published by the Smithsonian Institution. May 29, 1923.
. . . . The mounds near Casas Grandes River are situated in the same inland plateau, and although Casas Grandes pottery excels the Mimbres in form and brilliant color, it is inferior to it in the fidelity to nature of its realistic pictures of animals. In this respect the Mimbres has no superiors and few rivals . . . . p. 26]



Additional Designs on Prehistoric Mimbres Pottery, by J. Walter Fewkes, Chief, Bureau of American Ethnology. Publication 2748. City of Washington. Published by The Smithsonian Institution. January 22, 1924.
The age of the Mimbres Pottery is unknown save that it antedates the historical epoch. The method of determining its age by the stratification of shards in refuse heaps has not been found feasible in this region, mainly because deep refuse heaps have not yet been discovered. The small size of those that are known indicates a rather short occupation and although a few different kinds of pottery occur they have not yet been arranged in an evolutionary series. It is doubtful whether or not all types were synchronous with the picture bowls. Probably when the valley was first peopled the colonists came from areas beyond the mountains and the production of realistic figures developed after they had inhabited the Mimbres Valley for some time.

The fact that these designs are highly realistic or specialized does not in the author's judgment, mean that the culture which they express was necessarily late in development. What few facts we have point to limited residence in an isolated valley.

The potters who painted the designs on Mimbres ware were contemporary with those who decorated the beautiful pottery of northern Chihuahua and that of the Gila compounds as indicated by the presence of shards or even complete specimens from these regions. The transfer was either by traders or possibly by clans or colonists seeking new homes, which appears to account for the alien ware at Black Mountain ruin . . . .

The great abundance of designs and the absence of conventionalism is interpreted to mean that pottery making in the Mimbres was not [p. 27] limited to a few individuals as among the Hopi. Many Mimbres women were potters and there was more individuality in the designs they used. Among the ancient Hopi [Sikyatki} pottery designs show a more crystallized conventional art.

It is not possible in the present state of our knowledge to determine the date when the prehistoric Mimbreños disappeared or possibly were merged into the Apache of the same time, but it appears that they were contemporaneous with the prehistoric population of the Gila and Casas Grandes. [p. 27-28]

[Fewkes, Jesse Walter. The Mimbres Art and Archaeology with an Introduction by J.J. Brody. Albuguerque, New Mexico: Avanyu Publishing, Inc. 1989. [A reprint of three papers . . . . Published by the Smithsonian Institution between 1914 and 1924.]




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