On Wednesday, Oct. 10, Dr. Jill Ahlberg Yohe, a Mellon Fellow Curator of Native American Art at the Saint Louis Art Museum, came to SIUE to deliver a presentation entitled “Navajo Weaving in Curatorial and Ethnographic Practice.” The event was sponsored by the University’s Native American Studies program. Ahlberg Yohe came to the University to share her extensive knowledge of the role of weaving in the social life of the Navajo.
In her lecture, Ahlberg Yohe spoke of her ethnography of the Navajo, during which she spent three years studying the social and cultural significance of textiles and weaving in the tribe.As an anthropologist working at a museum, Ahlberg Yohe gave interesting insight into the cross between art history and anthropology. Both disciplines look at art in unique and sometimes conflicting ways, but Ahlberg Yohe’s career shows that the two can work together harmoniously in what is referred to as New Art History.
Before Ahlberg Yohe came to St. Louis, Native American Curator was not a position that existed at the Saint Louis Art Museum. She is the first curator of the first Native American art gallery in the history of the museum, and she has brought what Associate Anthropology Professor and Native American Studies Coordinator Dr. Cory Willmott calls “a real turning point in the history of this region.”
So many SIUE students and outside community members attended the hourlong lecture and the following discussion that the room was filled to capacity, with even a few visitors having to stand during the presentation. Willmott, having facilitated the event, was “thrilled with the turnout.”
“There was a very diverse number of questions, types of questions, and people who were asking the questions,” says Willmott. “I was extremely pleased with the turnout and the atmosphere of the group.”
As Coordinator of the University’s Native American Studies program, Willmott usually invites at least one guest speaker to speak with students in the program as well as other interested students, faculty, and staff and outside community members.
Willmott was enthusiastic to have Ahlberg Yohe come to speak because it brought her students unique information about the Navajo worldview and about contemporary Native Americans in general.
“There are not many opportunities to learn about…contemporary Native Americans, so bringing in a speaker like Dr. Ahlberg Yohe is really important, especially in terms of her role at the museum,” Willmott says.
After her lecture, Ahlberg Yohe handed out business cards to students, urging them to visit the Native American gallery at the Saint Louis Art Museum. She additionally told them to ask for her when they visit so that she can talk with them about the pieces and provide historical and cultural context.
Willmott was delighted with Ahlberg Yohe’s invitation to students and says that Ahlberg Yohe’s reaching out was “an absolutely stunning opportunity” for “learning and career networking.”
“Jill’s very serious about being accessible to our students,” Willmott says. “She’s very excited about working with our students and collaborating with us.”
Ahlberg Yohe, while at the University on the 10th, had a quick opportunity to look at the University Museum’s collection. Willmott says that Ahlberg Yohe was “excited at the quality of our University Museum collection” and plans to meet with Willmott again to look further at the material in the collection.
The Native American collection at the Saint Louis Art Museum is part of the galleries that are free and open to the public. At the Museum, the art of the Great Plains Native Americans can be seen in the Danforth Gallery, and Gallery 323 houses the Diné First Phase Chief Blanket, which is a rare and important piece of Navajo art that Ahlberg Yohe talked about in her presentation.