By Jake Weber
It's a news story that rarely fails to snag headlines and the public's attention: a graduate student, working in an archive, uncovers a treasure the institution didn't know it had. Gabby Vezzosi, '12, can identify with it—except, of course, that she's not a graduate student. The art and political science major began with the need for a Ford Institute internship, and ended up helping Albion's Art Department redefine part of its collection.
"[Ford Institute Director] Dr. [Al] Pheley and [art history professor] Bille Wickre helped me come up with this project—I would do summer research on part of the art collection, then do a teaching assistantship for Dr. Wickre's Native American art class in the fall," Vezzosi related. "I wanted something that would involve my art major and my Ford internship, so this was perfect."
Helping Wickre choose pieces to be used in the class, Vezzosi became interested in a collection of Southwestern pots donated in 1949 by Herbert Leonard Cope, an 1898 alumnus. She began the research needed to properly catalog the items—research that raised questions instead of providing answers.
In particular, "Zuni pottery often depicted a deer with a 'heartline'—a mark that symbolizes the transfer of life from the deer to the hunter," Vezzosi said. The College had identified its pots as Zuni artwork, but Vezzosi couldn't find a heartline motif in any of her Zuni materials. She contacted experts at the Zuni pueblo and Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, along with an Acoma professor at the University of New Mexico.
"Our pot was definitely Acoma, not Zuni," Vezzosi said. "I began my summer research studying Zuni pottery. I had to start researching Acoma pottery right before my scheduled presentation! It was cool to make this discovery but stressful, too.”
In January 2012, Vezzosi received a winter travel grant from FURSCA, which she used to travel to New Mexico and meet with Christine Sims, an education professor and member of the Acoma Pueblo, along with Acoma potter Theresa Pasqual. "I was able to gain insight into the pottery process by interviewing Dr. Sims and Ms. Pasqual. I was allowed into part of the pueblo and was able to see the mesa where ceremonies are held. It was truly amazing.”
"One little bit of information turned out to be a stepping stone to another piece and another place," Vezzosi said. "It was surreal to be a part of the discovery."
Along with discovering the source of the pot, Vezzosi thinks she may have discovered a source for her future as well. "I hope to further research in this field as I work towards my master’s degree in arts management. I'd love to manage a gallery or museum and am interested in management and marketing," she said. "When I started this project, I didn't know what career I wanted to pursue after college, but now I do. This was right up my alley."