Among the Indian tribes known today, the greatest mountaineers of all were the Utes. Thought to be the first people to inhabit the rugged landscape of the San Juans, they didn't bother to record their summit accomplishments in books or ledgers. According to stories, they climbed to hunt eagle and sheep or scout valleys from the highest vantage point, changing their stone-worn moccasins frequently for fresh ones.
Like their mountaineering feats, the art of the Utes is also a hidden treasure.
"The Pueblo, Navajo and Plains Indian art gets all the attention," said Dr. William Wroth, author of Ute Indian Arts and Culture from Prehistory to the New Millennium and former curator of the Taylor Museum of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, in a recent interview. Wroth will be a speaker at the first lecture in the upcoming Utes of the Valley lecture series to be held weekly in November at the Telluride Historical Museum. "The Utes have been largely ignored because people have looked at the other tribes more readily," Wroth said, "yet they made absolutely wonderful art. So little is known."
The three-part lecture series, hosted by the Telluride Historical Museum and Pinhead Institute, will be held on Thursday evenings, Nov. 2, 9 and 16, from 6-8 p.m. Spanning the arts, stories and myths of the Utes and presented by Ute elders, PhD archeologists, museum scientists, and the vice chairman of the Smithsonian Institution Native American Repatriation Review Committee, the series is designed to give locals an opportunity to discover more about their resident valley during the slow months of off-season.
The cost of admission is $10 per lecture or $25 for a series pass. The first 12 people to purchase a series pass receive a bonus a guided tour of the privately owned Shavano Petroglyphs Park in Montrose, by Carol Patterson, PhD, cultural anthropologist and archaeologist on Saturday, Nov. 4, 8 a.m.-noon. Series passes and individual tickets are available by calling 728-3344. For more information, visit the Telluride Historical Museum website at www.telluridemuseum.org. There will be free refreshments at the lectures and a cash bar beginning at 5:30 p.m.
This year's first presentation, on Nov. 2 by Wroth and Norman Lopez, Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Councilman, flute player and story teller, will be "Art of the Utes: The materials of Everyday Life." Lopez will open with traditional flute music followed by a slide presentation given by Wroth, who spent seven years at the Taylor Museum working with a team of museum scientists and members of the Ute civilization to compile the most comprehensive exhibit and book about the art and culture of the Utes to-date.
On Nov. 9, "Tales of the Utes: From Creation to Displacement," will be presented by O. Roland McCook, Sr., Uncompahgre Ute and Vice Chairman of the Smithsonian Institution Native American Repatriation Review Committee, and C. J. Brafford, Director of the Ute Indian Museum and a Lakota Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Clifford Duncan, Northern Ute Elder, and Carol Patterson, PhD, cultural anthropologist and archaeologist, will end the series with a co-presentation, "Myths of the Utes: Stories Told Through Petroglyphs," on Nov. 16.
The Telluride Unearthed program debuted last November as a lecture series devoted to better understanding "Mining the Valley," attracting 50-90 locals to each of three consecutive Thursday evening talks.
The program is supported by a Museums for America Grant given by the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. Awarded to the Telluride Historical Museum with assistance from and in partnership with Pinhead Institute, the grant was one of only 177 awarded nationally from a pool of nearly 500 applicants. Other sponsors of the event include ResortQuest, Camels Garden, CCAASE and Telluride Foundation. Partners of the program include the Telluride School District and the Wilkinson Public Library.
While in town, each of the six presenters will be making classroom presentations at the Telluride Elementary and Intermediate Schools as part of Pinhead's Scholars in the Schools program.