Jessica Smolinski

An installation at the Yale University Art Gallery titled “Pueblo Women’s Ceramics from the Patti Skigen Collection” highlights the works of 18 female indigenous artists.

On display until next year, the installation features ceramics and pottery by artists from various pueblos — the ancestral homes of these women in New Mexico — including the pueblos of Acoma, Jemez, San Ildefonso and Santa Clara.

“These pieces by contemporary women artists show the ancestral connection that we still maintain with our homeland, as well as the vibrancy and vitality of these traditions,” said Anthony Trujillo DIV ’19, who worked on the installation and is from the pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh.

The installation features pieces from a recent gift to the YUAG from Patti Skigen LAW ’68. The gift was comprised of 33 works of contemporary Native American art. Trujillo described a “sense of urgency” to display the pieces, both to honor the gift and to emphasize the value the YUAG saw in representing the art of Native American women.

According to Kaitlin McCormick, a postdoctoral fellow in Native American art and curation, the ceramic bowls, jars and vases on display were “made for the marketplace.” Most pieces were collected by Skigen at the Santa Fe Indian Market, and date to the late 80s and early 2000s.

According to Trujillo, the pieces are strongly tied to the pueblos they come from. Each pueblo is a sovereign nation, he explained, and the traditions the pottery pieces represent reflect the “political, territorial and cultural sovereignty” of the pueblos.

As a result, the pieces in the installation are loosely grouped by region and material. McCormick said that she and Trujillo attempted to replicate pueblo pottery’s spiral motif by placing the pieces in a circular pathway.

Trujillo also said that it was important to let a narrative emerge from the pieces themselves, rather than impose one on them.

“The pottery exhibited here is part of a whole life system of pueblo people,” Trujillo said. “And as pueblo people and as potters, one of the really important messages is that we don’t tell Mother Clay what we want her to be, and I think that is true for this exhibit.”

By the end of this month, the current installation will include three interviews, conducted by Trujillo, of pueblo artists included in the exhibit. Trujillo said that he wanted to add interviews because watching visitors merely look at the objects felt like a “missed opportunity.” He wanted viewers to engage with the challenges the exhibit poses by giving them a glimpse into the lives and homes of the artists.

Trujillo conducted two interviews in the potters’ homes. To him, it signified the artists inviting the Yale community into their homes and studios, and would serve to help dispel “romanticized notions” about the lives of native people.

According to McCormick, the contemporary works in the installation will complement the historic objects incorporated in the student-curated exhibition titled “Place, Nations, Generations, Beings: 200 Years of Indigenous North American Art,” which will go on view Nov. 1.

Trujillo said he is “super excited” to see both displays on view at the same time, because it opens up new possibilities for how Yale will engage with the Native American community.

“I would love for this to open up longer, more sustained and deeper conversations about the presentation of Native art in this space,” Trujillo said.

Henry Roe Cloud, the first Native American student at Yale, graduated in 1910.


Freya Savla |

Correction, Oct. 12: A previous version of this article stated that Trujillo “likened” each pueblo to a sovereign nation. In fact, Trujillo highlighted that pueblos are sovereign nations according to federal law. The article has been updated to reflect this.