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Arts and Entertainment

Artifacts as art

Ute exhibit in final weeks at Arts Center

“Celebrating Ute Culture” is not like most exhibits at the Durango Arts Center or those in any other art gallery, either.

What you’ll see on display in the Barbara Conrad Gallery represents some of the most beautiful craft work of Ute societies past, but with few exceptions, all of the pieces were designed for function over form. Items in the exhibit were loaned by private citizens throughout Southwest Colorado and from the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes. The collection of baskets, flutes, leatherwork, parfleche boxes, drums and other practical and ceremonial relics from the past century-plus is as much a history lesson as visual entertainment. Talso .

Nathan Strong Elk, executive director of the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum in Ignacio, was instrumental in bringing the exhibit to Durango.

“We love to collaborate with other institutions and museums,” Strong Elk said. “It’s really good, and I want to look at it some more myself. I’m glad we were able to be part of it.”

Strong Elk said DAC exhibits director Mary Puller did most of the legwork, reaching out to collectors on her own. The Southern Ute contribution includes many gifts that were donated to the museum by some of those same collectors as well as by some of the oldest families in the Ute heritage. In particular, a large ceremonial drum given to him by a chief is a piece the value of which is tangible and intangible.

“It is very sacred,” Strong Elk said. “We say the drum’s for sale, but I kind of hope it doesn’t go. But if it does, it will go to pay for the Ute/Apache ceremonial drum we’re trying to bring to the museum. I’m considering a Ute-Apache altar. They’re all sacred things tied in together.”

“Celebrating Ute Culture” will close June 15.


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