Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Pueblo Grande Museum ~ Ancient Technology Day ~ Part II

I had a wonderful conversation with Timothy Terry during my visit at the Pueblo Grande Museum. Timothy is a member of the Akimel O'odham Tribe and one of a very small handful of people who still etch shells in the traditional way.

The gum from the mesquite tree is used to make a paste. This paste is then painted on the shell in traditional patterns and then allowed to dry. An acid is needed to remove the paste as well as the outer layer of the shell. For this, Timothy makes his own vinegar from saguaro fruit.

When the fruit is ripe on the saguaros, Timothy heads out into the desert. He collects five gallons worth of fruit for each batch. First he makes the fruit into wine which is used in sacred ceremonies. The remainder is turned into vinegar. Five gallons of saguaro fruit creates enough concentrated vinegar for Timothy to etch about 40 pieces of jewelry.

The painted shells may soak in the vinegar for up to two days. The result is a striking image left behind. The natural shape and coloring of the shells seem to become one with the new symbols as though they were meant to be together.

Timothy also cuts and carves the shells to make bracelets and earrings. His work is simply beautiful.

He shared pictures with me of ancient artifacts that have been uncovered. This was so I could see that the designs and symbols he uses today, are almost identical to those from hundreds of years ago. As we admired the pictures of ancient shell jewelry, he pointed out how skilled his ancestors were. Whereas he has the use of modern tools, the people of long ago would have used much cruder implements.

As amazing as his art is, Timothy mentioned more than once that this is only a hobby for him. He works full time as a Traditional Counselor in the Gila River Community.
He incorporates the use of art in helping people to rehabilitate. Some of the people he has helped are now making jewelry to earn money and, perhaps more importantly, maintain a connection to their roots.

In addition to his counseling and jewelry making, Timothy Terry is also an artist/illustrator, a photographer and a storyteller. He has been featured in museums, books and magazines. He can often be found giving local demonstrations or telling stories at the Heard Museum.

You should be able to see larger images of these pictures by clicking on them. I'll be back tomorrow with more from my day at the Pueblo Grande Museum.

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