Objects with Stories: Pueblo Pots and Pedro de Lemos

Unlike the rest of the nearly 375 ethnographic pots in the museum’s collection, this vessel is accompanied by a hand-drawn diagram. It’s titled “INDIAN POTTERY SYMBOLS, Interpreted by Pedro de Lemos, 1947.” 

Unlike the rest of the nearly 375 ethnographic pots in the museum’s collection, this vessel is accompanied by a hand-drawn diagram. It’s titled “INDIAN POTTERY SYMBOLS, Interpreted by Pedro de Lemos, 1947.” 

Like most museums, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History has a substantial collection, most of which is never or rarely on display. This new blog series will highlight, randomly, some of our objects and share some of their stories. 
One thing about stories is we choose which ones to tell and when. So when I start the series by letting you know it’s about a Zuni pot, you might be surprised to learn the story focuses on a non-Zuni artist named Pedro de Lemos. 

Pedro de Lemos and Pueblo Indian Arts

What made Pedro de Lemos an authority on interpreting Zuni pottery symbols? Why would he have made this drawing for our regional museum? 

What made Pedro de Lemos an authority on interpreting Zuni pottery symbols? Why would he have made this drawing for our regional museum? 

Pedro de Lemos was a prolific and celebrated artist in the first half of the twentieth century. A current exhibition at the Monterey Museum of Art features his prints and paintings, and emphasizes his role in the American Arts and Crafts movement. He promoted the movement through his positions as editor-in-chief and contributor to The School Arts Magazine  from 1915-1950, and as Curator and Director of the Stanford University Art Gallery and Museum from 1917-1945. 
In particular, de Lemos championed traditional Southwest Pueblo arts as original, authentic American expressions. In 1921, he began studying the “household art” of pottery-making at pueblos in New Mexico. In a recent book about Pedro de Lemos (Lasting Impressions, 2015:43), author Robert W. Edwards writes:
"From 1924 to 1949, in more than a score of articles for The School Arts Magazine, he meticulously described in text, illustrations and photographs the geography, life, and ceremony of these Indians, careful to distinguish pueblos and villages according to tribes and subcultures, providing the specific names of artisans and the peculiarities that singled them out as master craftspeople in their respective fields."
As early as 1923, he published an article recognizing the talents of potter Maria Martinez, who lived at San Ildefonso Pueblo. 

From Pueblo to Palo Alto to the Peninsula

Pedro de Lemos befriended several Pueblo Indian artists, collected their work for the Stanford Museum of Fine Arts, and hosted exhibitions at the university. He even brought Pueblo Indian craftsmen to Stanford to put on demonstrations and, according to correspondence between his granddaughter, Phyllis Lyon Munsey, and Pebble Beach historian Neal Hotelling, photos show them enjoying the shore near Bird Rock.
Why Pebble Beach? Pedro de Lemos had an ongoing connection with the Monterey Peninsula area. Many of his drawings, pastels, and prints depict the area’s natural features. In 1926, he designed a cottage and had it built at 7th and Casanova in Carmel. In 1927, he was elected the first president of the Carmel Art Association. In 1932, de Lemos purchased a 1.8-acre site in Pebble Beach, where he ultimately built the house his family named “Mara Nido, Casita de Lemos,” known today as the Gingerbread House.  

Tracking the Pots 

While splitting his time between Palo Alto and the Monterey Peninsula, de Lemos appears to have developed a relationship with Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. Our database records identify him as the donor of two Zuni bowls, two Acoma pots, a Santo Domingo bowl, a Tsia jar, and a Santa Clara marriage ceremony jar made by Oligio Narango. An undated news clipping in one of the Museum’s scrapbooks offers further clues. The news clipping suggests that de Lemos may have donated more than the seven vessels for which we have records. Now the fun starts…. Can we match any of the Pueblo Indian pots in our collection to images published by Pedro de Lemos? We’re just starting to look….