Curator Kathleen Wall (Jemez) is an artist, mother, and wife in Jemez Pueblo. She carries on the matrilineal tradition of being a clay artist. Her art, although grounded in ancestral process and techniques, is found at the intersection of traditional and contemporary.
Kathleen chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:
Pray Both Ways
Although Pueblo religion and culture have experienced a long history of concessions and acceptance in order to appease the Catholic religion, over the centuries this process of adaptation has transformed into a beautiful syncretism and celebration of faith for New Mexico Pueblo people. The blending of Pueblo tradition and Catholic beliefs has created a unique reverence for the two belief systems.
The Infant, more often called the “Baby Jesus” by Jemez tribal members, is one such wonderful syncretic celebration. Each year a family sponsors the event and hosts a sculpture of the infant Jesus in their house for the Christmas season. Beginning on Christmas Eve and continuing through Three Kings Day (January 6), the twelve-day celebration is a reenactment and commemoration of the Nativity. The host family feeds everyone and opens the door to their home so that other people from the Pueblo can pay homage and celebrate the birth of Jesus. In return for their sacrifice of time, energy, and money, the host family is rewarded with good fortune, healing, and forgiveness of past sins.
The first time that I remember my auntie Mary hosting the Infant was when she lived in the plaza of Jemez Pueblo. I must have been nine or ten years old. My auntie’s Nativity scene reminds me of the different years when my family hosted the Baby Jesus. When I saw it, I was filled with strong feelings of gratitude. Now, as an adult, I understand the service and generosity that my family provided during the times they hosted the Baby Jesus.
Auntie Mary was a medicine woman in the Fire Society and a very active participant in both Catholicism and tribal practices. She belonged to the choir at the San Diego Church and always insisted that her daughters attend church and also Jemez community events.
The integration of Catholicism into the Native religion mystified me when I was young and made me question many aspects of our religious practice, but now I can understand it. By holding onto the cultural traditions gifted to us and by breathing life into the community, we are also able to acknowledge and celebrate the introduced religion, even though it came to us through persecution.
When I look at this Nativity scene made by Auntie Mary, I am reminded of the introduction of the Catholic culture into our traditional life and of the sacrifices that Pueblo people continue to make. This blending of religion acknowledges the depth of our heritage.