Huhugam Heritage Center Showcases GRIC Artists Online and In New Murals

Emma Hughes

Gila River Indian News


While the Huhugam Heritage Center (HHC) remains closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the center continues to engage the Community online. Throughout the pandemic, the HHC has used social media and short videos to spread the word about the new Museum Gallery currently on display and to share the cultural history of the Gila River Indian Community.


In the past, GRIC artists have been featured in a small room outside the Great House Gallery entrance as part of a “rotating solo artist exhibit,” where an individual artist’s work is displayed for three months at a time. It’s a showcase the HHC hopes to bring back when the pandemic passes and will be relocated to the museum entrance. 


“That’s one of our future goals, to highlight more artists and other smaller collections to exhibit,” said Joshua Yazzie, a technician who works in the HHC’s collections department. 


Besides giving GRIC artists a platform to show their work, the HHC for years has housed and cared for valuable collections and artifacts, helping to preserve the Community’s history.


“It’s our responsibility to house and care for (everything) in the repository,” said Yazzie, who handles, cleans, measures, and photographs each item in the HHC collection. “Just overall preserve it as best as we can. We are also a repository, meaning that we meet, and or exceed, all federal standards for the care of federal archaeological collections. Our goal is to care for each object in a way that preserves it for as many generations as possible into the future.” 


Yazzie is also a basket weaver. His experience has been helpful in identifying designs and weaving styles among some of the basket collections housed in the HHC repository. During the closure, Yazzie was asked to lead a yarn basket weaving class for the Akimel O’otham/Pee-Posh Youth Council, along with Monica King, Educator for HHC.   


“I feel like we as O’otham/O’odham people are very expressive in our artwork about our culture and it comes in so many forms of expressing it,” said Yazzie. “I want to be able to showcase that, to let people know that traditional and cultural (concerns) are very important, but it’s also just as important (to) sustain it. Sometimes we do have to step out of the box a little to preserve it. Like yarn weaving, it helps those understand the rhythm of traditional basket weaving. Natural materials are hard to find and even harder to process them” 


The latest HHC art project involves murals painted along the stairway in the Great House gallery. Through social media, HHC put out a call for GRIC artists to submit their work, to “tell the Community’s history through their art.”


Jacob Johns, Ted Huerta, Zachary Justin, Tiffany Enos and Chad Pasqual are the five GRIC members who will share their craft and the Community’s history in the new mural series, using supplies provided by HHC. Each artist will come in and work individually.


Chad Pascual, District 3, will paint the second wall space up the stairwell. Jacob Johns, a GRIC member who currently resides in Washington, will travel to HHC to attempt a “3D painting” using acrylic on the first wall at the bottom of the stairwell and will feature his family as basket weavers. 


Ted Huerta, District 3, will be working in his preferred medium of oil paint on canvas. His canvases are to be completed at home, will line the wall shelves along the stairwell. 


Tiffany Enos, District 4, chose the fourth wall space and will feature a river scene. Enos was one of the artists featured in HHC’s T-shirt design contest and second place winner, which celebrated last year’s re-opening after renovations to the museum building was complete. 


Zachary Justin, District 6, was the first to complete his mural, which is featured on the third wall of the Great House. He chose to paint local desert scenery, using a traditional basket and pottery adorned with quail and water designs. Justin also has done murals for the new Blackwater Community School building and Casa Blanca Community School. 


“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Justin. “It should encourage upcoming artist and youth. The main excitement for me doing this mural was knowing I’m able to do art close to a lot of these artifacts. They have a lot of meaning to us, to me.”


For more information and videos, you can find the Huhugam Heritage Center on Instagram and Facebook with the handle @huhugamhc