Position: Director, Pablita Velarde Indigenous Women in the Arts Musuem (Sante Fe, New Mexico)
By Jonathan Breaker
I’m writing this profile as a new resident of Sante Fe, New Mexico for Iksokapi Magazine showcasing a glimpse of the role Indigenous women have in the city and in the arts. This past summer, I was invited by Amber-Dawn Bear Robe to an opening exhibition and reception at the Pablita Velarde Indigenous Women in the Arts Museum in Sante Fe, New Mexico (http://pvmiwa.org). Amber-Dawn is the Director of the museum in downtown Sante Fe, New Mexico. At the reception, Amber-Dawn took some time to welcome me to the event and museum. I was struck immediately by the space and the amount of artwork. As an institution celebrating indigenous women and the arts, it is one-of-a-kind within and outside Indian country.
The museum is named after an internationally renowned artist, Pablita Velarde, and honours a diverse tradition of generations of indigenous women in the arts. The exhibit featured the work of Helen Hardin, the daughter of Pablita, also a well known indigenous women artist. Although I was unfamiliar with these artists, Amber Dawn quickly pointed out the differing history of artistic work of the Native American southwest and of indigenous women in the states. These artists are also contemporaries of Canadian indigenous women, such as Joane Cardinal-Schubert and Audrey Poitras, among others. After the reception we settled down at a local restaurant called the “Pink”. Given we are both Blackfoot from Siksika Nation in Canada (and far from home), it was great to finally meet each other and talk about our roots.
I was quite interested to hear of Amber Dawn’s background and her work. We had a brief talk about the career path she took to pursue her professional interests within and outside Canada. Amber Dawn graduated with a B.A. Fine Arts from Alberta’s College of Art and Design and holds two master degrees from universities in the states. She had a lot of support, including from her family and from our community, which has also celebrated her achievements. As most Native artists and those who work in a non-profit environment know, it is not easy trying to launch a career in the arts.
Some main issues include financial and institutional support and in difficult economic times it’s even harder to excel in the field. It is inspiring to see someone like Amber-Dawn make her way in the world. She also understands the importance of having Native people work their way in their respective fields. Within and outside her role as Director, she is able to give back to the community and Native women at large. Amber-Dawn is quite active in the larger arts community. She recently curated a fashion show featuring the work of Native American indigenous fashion designers, such as Patricia Michaels.
Patricia was the first runner-up to Season 11 of Project Runway, a reality based tv show. The fashion show was meant to highlight Native American designers “who push the exploration of Native fashion”. In addition, Amber Dawn also takes her job on the road, she also recently curated an exhibit entitled “Blood Memoirs: Exploring Individuality, Memory, and Culture through Portraiture” at the Tweed Museum of Art in Duluth, Minnesota.
The exhibition featured “painting, sculpture, photography, works on paper and video, all of which explore identity through the eyes of native and non-native artists”. As our evening winded down, we were joined by her husband Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/Arapaho ), a screenwriter known for his work on the movie Smoke Signals.We chatted about our mutual interests in food, the arts, pets and talked about the differences for indigenous people in Canada and the United States. It felt great to be in the casual company of such creative minds.
(Photos provided by Amber Dawn Bear Robe)