University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Past Special Exhibition at the Penn Museum

Living in Balance was open from May 20, 1995 through June 3, 2013.

The culture and cultural perspectives of four Native American peoples of the Southwest are the focus of this exhibition, which opened 20 May 1995. Specifically, it examines the sacred and cultural connection that the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, and Apache have with their environment. It features an Apache tipi, a Navajo hooghan framework, an illuminated walk-in sky theater, and more than 300 objects from the Museum's extensive archaeological and ethnographic Southwest collections.

As early as the 1890s the Museum was actively acquiring collections made by explorers, travelers, government officials and museum personnel. A few years later more than 3,000 archaeological objects recovered from John Wetherill and other explorers were purchased through funds provided by Phoebe Hearst. In 1901 and 1902, Museum Director Stewart Culin, funded by Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker, made expeditions to Hopi villages, Zuni Pueblos and other Rio Grand Pueblos to purchase ethnographic material.

An Exhibition with a Native American Perspective

Guest Curator and Research Associate Dr. Dorothy Washburn held extensive consultations with representatives of the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo and Apache peoples in order to develop an exhibition which would present a native peoples' perspective. The exhibition focuses on the distinctive Native American view of knowledge, which restricts expertise and performance of different rituals to those who are initiated and trained, as well as on the highly networked nature of Native American society which functions in balance only if every individual carries out his or her family obligations and ritual responsibilities.

Specific rituals and activities unique to the cultures of the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo and Apache peoples are presented to highlight the philosophical perspective that sees everything in the universe as alive. People, rather than being in a dominant relationship with this universe, are seen as one more part of it; their goal is to live, with the help of rituals, in balance with their environment.

In keeping with this perspective throughout the exhibition, a towering "tipi" houses objects, drawn from a Western Apache girl's puberty feast, that bespeak the importance of life transition stages and community cohesiveness; an octagonal "hooghan" (house) framework encloses objects which relate to the different kinds of knowledge the Navajo believe reside in mountains in the four sacred directions; a complete Hopi bride outfit symbolizes the extensive network of inter-family obligations and responsibilities which have enabled the Hopi to prosper in an arid land; and a scale model of the Zuni kick stick race metaphorically attests to the fundamental importance of rainwater to these agriculturists.

Sun, Land and Sky

One of the most important aspects of Native American life in the American Southwest is the way the Hopi and Zuni agriculturists coordinate their activities with the sun's yearly movements, marking the turning points in their calendars around the summer and winter solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes. The exhibition features a small, walk-in fiber optic computer-driven sky theater with music and narration. In the theater, an animated pathway of the sun's travels in the summer and winter skies illustrates how seasonal changes in the amount of sunshine are directly related to the timing of Native American planting and harvesting schedules. A voiced narration explains how the movements of the planets and constellations, illuminated in a night sky, continue to be used by the Apache and Navajo to schedule nighttime ceremonies.

One food which accompanies every Hopi ceremony, a wafer thin bread called "piiki," is featured prominently in the exhibition. A video detailing the "piiki"-making process looks at the important role the making and giving of this bread occupies in the ceremonial process. Visitors can touch an actual "piiki" stone on which the bread is cooked, experiencing its unique glassy surface.

The Changing Nature of the Landscape

The Hopi and Zuni perspective and the archaeologist's perspective of the Pueblo prehistoric past are juxtaposed. Detailed studies of the changing hydrologic potential of the Colorado Plateau has clarified the growth and movements of these prehistoric cultures. An extensive exhibition of the black-on-white and polychrome wares of the Anasazi and Mogollon peoples who inhabited the area from 200 to 1700 CE provides the introductory backdrop for the presentation of the natives' perspective of their way of life in this changeable land.

Sense and Sensibilities of the Native American Universe

Large-scale color murals of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona and other local mountains form a backdrop on the gallery walls, just as these sacred mountain peaks delimit the Native Americans' world and contain the knowledge, shrines and homes of the spirit beings vital to them in the conduct of their daily lives. The exhibition design incorporates images and colors particularly significant to Native Americans' sacred directions. Through touchable objects such as the glass-smooth "piiki" stone and soft buckskin clothing, the Navajo sheep bells and the metal tinklers on Apache dance dresses, visitors can gain a feel for the textures and sounds of daily life. In this way the exhibition directs the visitor's attention to everyday things which carry significance in the lives of Native Americans.

Living in Balance was exhibited in the Ruth and Earl Scott Gallery off the Main Entrance. The exhibition was made possible by a generous gift from Ruth and Earl Scott; by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency; the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; and by the support of the Women's Committee of the Penn Museum.

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