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BAM's Pueblo Pottery Exhibit Tells a Riveting 'Quiet Story'


133 North Allegheny Street Bellefonte, PA 16823



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By Serge Bielanko

August is here and you know what that means. Summer, in all her sunshiney summerstormy glory, is fleeing as we speak. In turn, that means that school is imminent. We are merely a few lazy days away from the return of the school buses, from the return of the college kids, and the return of even the slightest reminders that fall is the season of change. Now when that happens, and so much of this change going down all around me has an educational bent to it, I like to remind myself of a lovely little notion that just so happens to make the world a much better place; and that's this.

Me; you; your new second grader; my two new kindergarteners; the freshman downtown who've come from far and wide to spend some of their lives here among us in a quest to feed their minds...each and every one of us should try and fall in love with learning all over again right now.

Because it's learning that makes us our best, you know. And I'm not just talking about the kind of 'learning' that lets you make more money, climb to the next tax bracket. I'm talking about the kind of learning that allows you to view the world we live in through a slightly less murky set of eyes. Reading, writing, processing the fact that we are ALL members of the same human race and that we are ALL dying to be loved...sometimes way too literally, expands our minds in ways we tend to forget about once we've walked away with our degrees or settled into the jobs that come to define us in so many ways for the rest of our lives.

I guess what I'm saying is: we turn away from learning. Almost as if the very beginning of our 'grown-up' lives is the acceptable place to throw in the towel for educating yourself. When in reality: it's really just the time we ought to be starting to learn for real.

Case in point?

You bet.

Our own Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County (BAM) is a small but mighty source of culture and wisdom tucked right into downtown Bellefonte. And almost as if on cue, they're a constant source of magic in our community, forever just waiting for the anxious, the eager, and the hungry to learn to walk through the doors. Currently, they're featuring an exhibit titled Pueblo Pottery: Revival of the Past, the third in a four-part series of exhibits that shine a lovely light on just how darn inspiring life becomes when we start looking at the world around us.

I asked the museums's Deputy Director, Lori Fisher, to fill us in.

"During 2019, we're mounting four shows with one common theme: representing people living in North America and emphasizing the vibrancy and diversity of Americans," Fisher explains. "Each exhibition will share historic and contemporary samples of the art and artifacts created by members of those groups. This project supports the museum's goal to enrich our community by sharing artistic legacies of various peoples and places."

She's onto something big here. She's saying, maybe more succinctly, what I've been trying to get at all along here. Continuing to learn about our fellow people- past and present- only serves to make us all stronger. But shutting down the in-flow of knowledge, which we are all too guilty of in the face of time and anxiety, is probably our collective worst mistake.

Culture, Fisher notes, is life.

"Culture is a strong part of our lives. Learning more about people helps us understand them, our similarities and differences. Becoming aware of other cultures influences how we communicate and appreciate our friends and neighbors, their values, their hopes, their worries and priorities."

And so that is why Fisher and her museum crew reached out to State College resident, Nancy Toepfer, to be the Guest Curator for Pueblo Pottery. Topefer, it turns out, has been feeding her heart and her brain straight knowledge about a fascinating but lesser-known American story, and in the process, collecting their beautiful work. The exhibit is made up of parts of her vast collection.

"About fifty years ago my husband and I fell in love with the simplicity and beauty of pots done during the years at the beginning of the 20th century. The more we saw them, the more we learned about the culture, history, and activities of groups of Native Americans in the Southwest of our country. The unique story of how women saved their villages is the focus of this exhibition."

Who exactly were these people who created all of these insanely gorgeous works?

"The pottery in this exhibit comes primarily from a small area located on either side of the Rio Grande River in Northern New Mexico," says Toepfer. "They share the same heritage and Tewa language. Their common ancestors, the Anasazi, came from the north to this area in the 12th century and became farmers there. The rich history of the American Southwest, settled by the Spanish long before the English settled in the Northeast, is lesser known to many Americans. The Pueblo dwellers in New Mexico tilled the soil for centuries and were peaceful people, using their homemade pottery for water, cooking, and storage of supplies and food. Each pueblo had their own unique style, clay supply, and technique for the making of these functional pots. Today the current generation live in their apartment-like homes and produce pottery, but rather as artists than farmers. Their work is recognized all internationally for its beauty and creativity."

Beauty. Creativity.

That's what we're after, isn't it. That's what we hope for when we send our littlest ones onto that big looming school bus for that very first day of school in their lives. We want them to learn about how beautiful the world is despite all of the hatred and struggle they will encounter along the way. And we want them to understand that their is no limit whatsoever to the power of their own creativity. Not in the name of big paychecks and mansions on the hill, mind you. But as an inimitable spring of happiness through self-discovery starting now, today, and reaching all the way down the line until the end of their lives.

That may sound like a lot of hot air to you, huh? Ha. I get it. We deprogram ourselves, so many of us do. We leave all that learning for earning. But when we do, we make the tragic mistake of going blind in both eyes even though we can see the stoplights and the lights on the Christmas trees just as well as we used to.

"The story of pueblo pottery is a quiet one, based on the importance of the past and the rediscovery of traditional values," reads the BAM website. I like that a lot. A quiet story. There's one around every corner, if you think about it. Way out west, across the seven seas, and right out behind the house just in back of the shed, I'll bet.

"There are many "quiet" stories in the world of art, not dependent on galleries, press agents, promoters, or investors," Toepfer reflects. "This exhibition honors a group of potters who transformed a functional skill based on necessity to an art form which is recognized all over the world as beautiful, showing great skill, and reflecting a thoughtful and deep respect for nature."

It's us looking straight into the eyes of our fellow humans from far away or down the block; from long ago, maybe just last week.

Walking through the doors of a museum like this one, willing to experience whatever comes your way, it's almost like a gift you're offering up to yourself and to your fellow man, you know? You walk back out into that late summer sunshine with your mind buzzing from what you've just witnessed. You keep thinking about the pottery, the people who made it all.

You head down the street to grab a coffee, maybe let the kids chase the ducks in Talleyrand, and you are a better person for what you've just experienced.

And guess what?

We all need people like that now more than ever.


Pueblo Potter: Revival of the Past  
Guest Curator and Collector: Nancy Toepfer
July 28 - August 25: Friday, Saturday, Sunday 12:00-4:30

Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County
133 North Allegheny Street
Museum hours Friday, Saturday, & Sunday 12;00 - 4:30 p.m.


While at your visit to BAM, head up to the 3rd floor to witness Underground Railroad: A Journey to Freedom exhibit. That permanent feature highlights the escaped slaves who sought safe passage to freedom in the north via a secret network of people who wanted to help abolish slavery altogether.

*This exhibition is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency fund-ed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

The Bellefonte Art Museum is supported by the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau. Learn more about the CPCVB by visiting



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