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31 Hopi items will travel from Connecticut for ‘a community visit’ with artisan descendants

Patty Talahongva of the Hopi Tribe holds a piece of pottery made by her great-great grandmother, Kwamana, housed in a collection at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
Heather Cabot
Patty Talahongva of the Hopi Tribe holds a piece of pottery made by her great-great grandmother, Kwamana, housed in a collection at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

This weekend, a collection of Hopi artwork housed at a Connecticut university will briefly return to the Hopi Reservation nearly a century after a family bought the pieces during a cross-country road trip.

Patty Talanhongva stumbled upon “Hopi Summer: Letters from Ethel to Maud,” a book chronicling the special friendship between wealthy New Englander Maude Melville and Ethel Muchvo, a Hopi potter.

It also mentions a relative of hers.

“I found out that Maude Melville and her family went up on the top of First Mesa to the village of Hano,” said Talanhongva, “and they bought pottery from my great-great grandmother, Kwamana.”

In 1927, Maud and Carey Melville, along with their three children, stopped in Polacca, Arizona, on the Hopi Reservation for eight days after driving across the country. They left from Massachusetts.

During that time, the Melville family purchased lots of Hopi art, gifted to Wesleyan University in 1976. Last June, Talahongva went to Wesleyan in Middletown, Connecticut.

“And I saw my great-great grandmother’s pottery in the collection,” she added, “So I immediately started thinking, how can we have more Hopi people see this, not just in my family, but in the whole tribe?

Her creative vision is finally coming true through her initiative: "Tuma Angwu Owya." She got permission, with help from Wesleyan, to temporarily return these treasures, including pottery and kachina dolls, to their homelands.

“We’re bringing 31 items back to Hopi for a visit,” Talahongva said, “and that’s what ‘Tuma Angwu Owya’ means, we’re going to go visit home.”

“This project reimagines the typical museum ‘collections visit’ by bringing the repository to the community,” reads a statement written by the Wesleyan University Library. “By centering contemporary Hopi families and Hopi lands in the request for collections access, Talahongva’s project lays the groundwork for more inclusive, responsive, and culturally informed models of stewardship and collections care and we are proud to partner with her.”

The three-day visit is special since descendants of the original artisans, like Talahongva and her relatives, will get a chance to see and handle the artwork, but also reconnect with the legacy of their ancestors privately.

“We have so many elders coming to see this collection,” Talahongva shared, “a woman who’s 93-years-old and going to see her mother’s pottery for the first time since she was a little girl. It’s important to have these connections, and it's important to share the art of the community with the community.”

“But we need help with getting the shipping costs covered,” she added. “Anyone knows how expensive that is, but imagine but imagine that the packaging is custom made for each item.”

In the meantime, she still expresses "esquali," or thank you in Hopi, to her partners and collaborators for their continuing support.

“Thank you so much to both Wesleyan University for saying yes, to bringing these items to Hopi to have a community visit, and then do something that other museums and universities are not doing,” Talanghova elaborated. “They could partner with the community to bring these collections to the community to make it easier for the people to see these items.”

The artwork will also be on public display Saturday and Sunday in Tuba City at the Moenkopi Legacy Inn.

Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.
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