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Chair (tsem-pai-yau-nai)

Catalogue Description:
Stewart Culin collected this side chair in Zuni Pueblo in 1904, calling it an ÔÇťAncient kneeling chair." The chair is pieced together from 11 planks and 4 square posts. Its ornamentation is limited to horizontal grooves and soft scalloping on the lower rails. The crest rail displays a series of peaks along its upper edge, apparently cut across previously inscribed horizontal lines. Below the lines is a series of irregularly, squarish gouge holes. The rear stiles' finials are stepped, and their top set-back shows a rough area where a segment may have broken off. The front stiles show grooving and exposed top ends that may have been covered by a forward seat plank. Nails secure the seat planks to the frame, but rails and stiles are joined with open mortise-and-tendon joints. Although Culin interpreted the stepped finials as Indian cloud forms In Spain, Islamic, North African stepped designs were also common forms. Other Hispanic traits include the mortis-and-joint construction and rectangular forming of its members and the use of staining. It has been suggested that it also demonstrates European proportions: about 2/3 vara by 1/2 vara (Spanish yard). If the finials had not broken off it would resemble the scrolled rear stiles of modest Spanish renaissance chairs. Scholar Ramon Gutierrez raises questions regarding its meaning to Pueblo culture. He argues that Franciscans studied and manipulated Pueblo society to establish Christian authority and values and therefore the chair may represent an effort to impose Catholic-Spanish culture on the part of an unwilling native maker. If "always offered" to a guest of Euro-culture the chair may have meant respect for or control of that visitor, depending on the social, political, and gender status of both host and guest within Pueblo culture in the 1800s.


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