The Amerind Foundation: Texas Canyon’s hidden collection of Native American culture

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An outside view of Amerind Museum. (Photo by: The Amerind Foundation/ Arizona Sonora News Service)

Expanses of blood-orange canyons and luscious green shrubs line a small dirt road near the Texas Canyon exit off Interstate 10 in Cochise County and continue to a picnic area with boulders and grass fields resembling a barnyard.

Here is the Amerind Museum, established in 1937, as a home to a collection of Native American artifacts and art.

The Amerind Foundation focused on field research relating to archaeological excavations and surveys until 1990. Today, the organization supports the creation of books on anthropology, archaeological history and Native American studies. Scholars from around the world share their work at the Amerind Museum.

“We are to do everything we can to educate, advance research, and share what we know with the public,” says Eric Kaldahl, chief curator and deputy director at the Amerind Museum. “That continues to be our mission until this day although we support publication of archaeological research rather than doing field work ourselves.”

William Shirley Fulton, the founder of the Amerind Foundation, developed his interest for Native Americans as a young man when collecting ancient spear points and stone tools around the farm fields of Connecticut. He began to buy arts and crafts from the natives of New England and the Great Lakes and eventually moved to Arizona. At 50 years old, he founded his own institution to bring together a collection of Native art pieces and to do new archaeological research in Arizona.

Archaelogical research remains important to Kaldahl and others at the Amerind Foundation.

“Fifty years ago you could (only) look at a beautiful piece of pottery and you could describe it,” Kaldahl says. “Today we can actually take a real tiny little sample of a piece of pottery, crush it into a powder, and put it into a research nuclear reactor and tell you exactly what the clay is. Because we can know exactly where it was made then we can know how it was moved around people’s social networks and relationships in the Southwest.”

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The Amerind Museum has a vast collection of Native American art pieces. (Photo by: The Amerind Foundation/ Arizona Sonora News Service)

The Amerind Museum’s permanent art collection includes about 400 pieces. About a quarter of the pieces are by Native artists. The others of are related to the history of the founder and include paintings from New England.

Other works are from painters and sculptors of the American West. “I work a lot with fine artists because in addition to our own collection we’re always bringing in new artists to display their work here,” Kaldahl says.

The Amerind Museum displays collections of baskets, clothing, beadwork, quillwork, jewelry, pottery and Native American paintings. A few of the communities and nations represented through the art at Amerind Museum include, the Tohono O’odham Nation, Gila River Indian Community and the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. “Certainly the nations here in the Southwest are the best represented,” Kaldahl says.

Today, the Foundation is now focusing its collection on Northern Mexico and the American Southwest. Kaldahl says the pieces collected have great aesthetic beauty to them. “They really do cover both hemispheres and scores of different Native communities,” Kaldahl says.

The Amerind Foundation receives funding through multiple mediums. Admissions fees, donations and the museum store raise revenue alongside the sum of money Fulton left behind which was invested and grown into a large endowment.

The Foundation plans on doing an exhibit on the subject of Native American running and running games in the American Southwest. The Hopi Indians are one of the many Native American tribes who adopted running culture as it was common for tribes to travel great distances by foot. The Foundation hosts an annual trail run in Texas Canyon.

The Amerind Foundation holds an annual trail run in the autumn. (Photo by: The Amerind Foundation/Arizona Sonora News Service)
The Amerind Foundation holds an annual trail run in the autumn. (Photo by: The Amerind Foundation/Arizona Sonora News Service)

Annual events such as Amerind Autumnfest , set for Oct. 24, or the trail run held in April, are led by artists, performers, teachers and lecturers native to the American Southwest. Tours and workshops for children are also led by natives and offer activities such as grinding corn using traditional tools.

Various tribes such as Zuni, Taos, Acoma, and Laguna are represented through the pottery collected. The Foundation collects artifacts from various Native peoples including the Dene, Navajo and Seri tribes. The art pieces include textiles, pottery, basketry, and ironwood carvings.

The preserved pieces are also representative of the Texas Canyon area.

“It is part of where we live and the land that we’re on and the people who lived here,” says Christine Szuter, the executive director at the Amerind Museum. “In order to understand this bigger, deeper history, it’s very important to understand the past. That past can delight you, show you new ways of thinking, give you an understanding of people and how they may have lived.”

Yuji Miyaji is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at ymiyaji@email.arizona.edu

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