Jules Tavernier and Elem Pomo explores the cross-cultural exchange between French-born and trained American artist Jules Tavernier (1844-1889) and the indigenous Pomo community of Elem in Clear Lake, Northern California. The exhibit is currently on view at Metropolitan Museum of Art until November 28, 2021, then goes to the de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, from December 18, 2021 to April 17, 2022.
“Jules Tavernier and Elem Pomo is a timely exhibition that brings alternative perspectives to the narratives that dominated the interpretation of American history and art of this period,” says Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “With added information from the Elem Pomo community, Tavernier’s Dance in an underground rotunda in Clear Lake, California reveals a more complex story from a moment in time, shedding light on the impact Western expansion has had on the Elem Pomo community in Northern California and highlighting the resilience and important legacy of this community.”
Investigating Tavernier’s life and career, the exhibition centers on his rediscovered masterpiece Dance in an underground rotunda in Clear Lake, California (1878), which depicts a ceremonial dance of the Elem Pomo known as the mfom Xe, or “people are dancing”, in an underground rotunda. Commissioned by San Francisco’s leading banker, Tiburcio Parrott, as a gift for his Parisian business partner, Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the work celebrates the rich vitality of the Elem Pomo culture, while exposing the threat posed by white settlers, including Parrott, who was then operating a toxic mercury mine on the community’s ancestral lands. Designated a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1990, the mine continues to negatively impact the lives of the sovereign people of the present Indian settlement of Elem.
The exhibition brings together approximately 60 works by a range of artists-paintings, prints, watercolors and photographs-to tell the story of Tavernier’s travels through Nebraska, Wyoming, California and the Hawaiian Islands, incorporating a multiplicity of voices and perspectives, including those of Pomo cultural leaders and curators, who offer new interpretations.
Major Tavernier paintings are featured alongside examples of 19th- to 21st-century Pomo basketry and regalia, including works by weaver Clint McKay (Dry Creek Pomo/Wappo/Wintun, b.1965), to celebrate the resilience of the Pomo indigenous peoples and showcase their continued cultural presence today. The exhibit is presented in collaboration with Elem Pomo cultural leader and badge maker Robert Joseph Geary and Dry Creek Pomo/Bodega Miwok scholar Sherrie Smith-Ferri, Ph.D.