Claremont, CA—The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College is pleased to announce an award of $75,000 from the Terra Foundation for American Art to support Cahuilla Basket Weavers, Emil Steffa, and Their Legacies, an exhibition currently scheduled for 2023. The Benton is one of 35 museums and organizations that received funds from the Terra Foundation, which recently granted $2.5 million as part of its two-year program Re-envisioning Permanent Collections: An Initiative for US Museums.
This grant program encourages museums to delve more deeply into their collections to reveal a fuller multiplicity of artworks and voices that have shaped the artistic and cultural heritage of the United States. It supports permanent collection reinstallation planning and implementation as well as the development of temporary exhibitions drawn from museum collections that all draw on more inclusive models of research, interpretation, and collaborative engagement.
"As we open our new museum building and expand access to our permanent collection, we are delighted to have support from the Terra Foundation to reconceive the interpretation of Native American objects in our care," said Victoria Sancho Lobis, director of the Benton Museum of Art. "We are proud to have such strong holdings of Cahuilla basketry, a facet of our collection that is truly foundational in terms of our institutional history. These important objects have long deserved a more robust and more rigorously developed context for display. With this grant we will be able to amplify our collaborative model of exhibition planning, thereby setting a course for further presentations of our Native American collection."
At the Benton, the grant from the Terra Foundation will support the exhibition and accompanying publication of approximately 600 baskets from the Cahuilla culture of what is now inland southern California. These Cahuilla baskets, produced in the early twentieth century, are a substantial portion of the College’s collection of Native American art, which numbers more than 4,000 objects in total and represents about a third of the College’s permanent collection of more than 15,000 objects. The baskets have been exhibited only sporadically since their arrival at the College nearly 100 years ago, and the most recent publication to address them was published in 1979. The baskets were given to Pomona College in 1933 by Pomona graduate Emil Steffa, who adopted a rigorous method of documenting the objects. He interviewed the makers, took extensive notes and photographs, and wrote two unpublished manuscripts on the collection. Cahuilla Basket Weavers, Emil Steffa, and Their Legacies contextualizes these early efforts by Steffa within contemporary practice by engaging a range of collaborators in the planning and installation of the exhibition as well as its attendant programs. This collaboration is at the heart of the Benton’s exhibition and will serve as a model for the museum’s future presentations of its Native American collections.
The principal curator of the exhibition and the lead author of the catalogue is Dr. Meranda Roberts, a member of the Yerington Paiute Tribe whose dissertation treated Cahuilla basketry. To ensure robust engagement with present-day members of the Cahuilla, including identified descendants of the named makers of baskets in the Benton’s collection, two contemporary basket weavers will be programming consultants: Lorene Sisquoc (Fort Sill Apache/Mountain Cahuilla) and Rose Ann Hamilton (Cahuilla).
Sisquoc is the director of the museum at the Sherman Indian High School in Riverside, California, as well as an instructor to students interested in traditional arts such as basketry. She will help the Benton facilitate a relationship between the Sherman Indian High School and Pomona College as well as the Claremont Consortium. She and Hamilton have dedicated themselves to the continuation of Cahuilla basket weaving practices by teaching California Native American basketry methods to emerging generations and regularly working with institutions to provide guidance and instruction on appropriate and authentic basket weaving materials, designs, and practices. For the Benton exhibition, they will be advising on the museum’s presentation as well as conducting on-site programs during the run of the exhibition.
Descendants of the weavers represented in the collection and present-day communities will also be actively involved in all aspects of Cahuilla Basket Weavers, Emil Steffa, and Their Legacies. They will be invited to offer interpretations of the baskets in the exhibition—and collection—in a way that honors their traditions, histories, and world view. These interpretations will serve as extended captions in the exhibition and catalogue as well as in the permanent object records for the Benton. Steffa’s photographs will be selectively paired with the work of contemporary Cahuilla photographers as a central motif of the exhibition design, and the Benton also plans to commission a video representation of Cahuilla lands for in-gallery projection to reinforce the significance of place for the production of the baskets.
The Benton will also be collaborating with Wallace (Marty) Meyer, director of the Bernard Field Station and associate professor of biology at Pomona College. Meyer will facilitate visits to the Field Station grounds to improve understanding of the biological context for the plant-based materials used in Cahuilla basket weaving and will also offer programs during the course of the exhibition that emphasize the relationship between the Indigenous care of Native lands and the creation of art forms such as baskets.
Cahuilla Basket Weavers, Emil Steffa, and Their Legacies will be realized and produced by these collaborations and networks, becoming a model for the Benton and other museums working with Indigenous communities and collections.
ABOUT THE TERRA FOUNDATION FOR AMERICAN ART
The Terra Foundation for American Art supports individuals, organizations, and communities to advance expansive understandings of American art. Established in 1978 and headquartered in Chicago, with an office in Paris, its grant program, collection, and initiatives are committed to fostering cross-cultural dialogues on American art locally, nationally, and internationally.
ABOUT THE BENTON MUSEUM OF ART AT POMONA COLLEGE
Now housed in the new Benton Museum of Art designed by Machado Silvetti and Gensler, Pomona College’s collection of art numbers 15,000 objects, including Italian Renaissance paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation; works on paper, including a first edition print series by Francisco Goya given by Norton Simon; and works in various media produced in Southern California in the twentieth century. In keeping with Pomona College’s reputation as a leading center of the visual arts, the collection also includes works by such esteemed alumni as Chris Burden (’69), Marcia Hafif (’51), Helen Pashgian (’56), Peter Shelton (’73), and James Turrell (’65). Recognized globally for its commitment to contemporary art, the museum is the home of The Project Series, which has featured more than 50 contemporary Southern California artists since it began in 1999. Through its collaboration with students and faculty, the museum encourages active learning and creative exploration across all disciplines of study within the liberal arts context.