Michael Brown ’72 speaks at The Met in front of the Pueblo pottery exhibit.
Courtesy Michael Brown ’72
The exhibit Brown helped bring to the Met includes pottery made by Romero-Briones’s grandmother

A-dae Romero-Briones ’03
A-dae Romero-Briones ’03
Courtesy A-dae Romero-Briones ’03
Two small clay turtles crawl across the black and white geometric surface of a bowl created by the Pueblo potter Teresita Romero. Part of a new exhibition of Pueblo potters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the piece was made around 1960 by Romero, the grandmother of A-dae Romero-Briones ’03. 

The show aims to convey the meaning of such objects in Pueblo culture. Romero-Briones comes from a family of potters, and their work helped her pay for college. When she was a student at Princeton, she says, “My mother and my grandmother made pots and went to an art show, an Indian market, and they used the money from the pots they sold to buy my clothes and my plane tickets to Princeton. It is an art form that is wholly tied to my community, and in a practical sense it’s the reason I was able to go to Princeton.”

Her story is one of many in the exhibit, “Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery.” Brought to the Met and the Vilcek Foundation in part by Michael F. Brown ’72, president of the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, it features about 100 works from Pueblo potters made over the last millennium. 

The show will be in New York until June 2024 and then travel to Houston and St. Louis. All of the pieces on display are from SAR’s collection of about 4,000 works of Pueblo pottery. Each of the show’s 60 curators, most of whom are from Pueblo communities, chose one or two objects, often for their emotional resonance. 

“The show contains some of the most beautiful Pueblo pots in existence,” Brown said, “but a few show decades of honest wear and were chosen by curators because they evoke memories of the importance of pottery in their spiritual and home lives.”

A terracotta pot with two clay turtles sculpted on it in relief, painted black and white.
The turtles pot created by Teresita Romero.
Peter Gabriel
Brown was introduced to Pueblo culture at Princeton and has headed SAR since 2014 after spending the previous 34 years at Williams College as a professor of anthropology. His introduction to the discipline came as a freshman when he took a course taught by Alfonso Ortiz, himself a Tewa Indian from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. Ortiz then hired Brown as a research assistant and sent him to Firestone Library to read accounts of Pueblo “clowning” written mostly by American missionaries who disapproved of the occasionally scatological elements of the Pueblo ritual.

After Brown’s freshman year, Ortiz recruited him and other students to work at a school in the Navajo Nation in Arizona, where Brown spent a second summer followed by a third in a Navajo community in Ramah, New Mexico. He went on to do graduate work at the University of Michigan, where he came to focus on Peru as his area of academic study, and then was hired at Williams, but he retained an affinity for the Southwest and spent more than a year as a visiting scholar at SAR.  

Six of the exhibit’s curators are relatives of Romero-Briones, who is director of programs for Native agriculture and food systems at the First Nations Development Institute. When she was a child, she says, her grandmother would give her clay teacups that she’d made but wasn’t happy with or whose handles had fallen off. “I cherish those pieces that I have from her,” Romero-Briones says.

Despite their beauty, Pueblo pots are practical objects. “They’re pots, and they’re not meant to last forever,” Romero-Briones says. “You know you’re creating something that’s meant to return to the earth, and there’s something very beautiful in that.”