When we see American Indian arts and crafts behind glass in a museum, the items sometimes seem like poignant relics of an earlier time. But the same skills that enabled American Indians to weave colorful Navajo rugs and intricate Hopi jewelry centuries ago have been handed down through generations.
In fact, says expert and author Theda Bassman, American Indian arts and crafts are flourishing like never before and have actually become much finer, in part because consumers are demanding better quality.
On Sunday at 2 p.m., Bassman will speak on the "Inspired Artistry of Southwest Indian Cultures" at the Southwest Museum in Highland Park. She will highlight the tribal arts of the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and Santa Clara pueblos using slides and artifacts to illustrate her comments.
"American Indian art has changed very greatly in the past two or three decades; that's why we bring in talks like this," said museum director Jerome Selmer.
The day offers a rare opportunity to see both past and present examples of American Indian arts and crafts. Bassman, the author of "Hopi Kachina Dolls and Their Carvers," will focus on contemporary art, including how rugs, pottery, jewelry and Kachina dolls are made.
Bassman became interested in American Indian art in the 1950s. "I was a backpacker, which led to river running, which led to Arizona and the Hopi Indians," she said. She opened a retail store, The Indian and I, in Beverly Hills in 1972. She retired from the store in 1977 and now lives in Palm Desert with her husband.
Reservations are required for the talk and can be made by calling (213) 221-2164. The $5 price does not include museum admission. The Southwest Museum is on the corner of Marmion Way and Museum Drive in Highland Park.