Jules Tavernier and the Elem Pomo explores the intercultural exchange between French-born and -trained American artist Jules Tavernier (1844–1889) and the Indigenous Pomo community of Elem at Clear Lake in Northern California. The exhibition is on view now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through November 28, 2021, and then travels to the de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, December 18, 2021, to April 17, 2022.
“Jules Tavernier and the Elem Pomo is a timely exhibition that brings alternative perspectives to narratives that have dominated the interpretation of American history and art from this period,” states Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “With insights added from the Elem Pomo community, Tavernier’s Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California reveals a more complex story of a moment in time, bringing to light the impact that Western expansion had on the Elem Pomo community in Northern California and highlighting the resilience and significant heritage of this community."
Investigating Tavernier’s life and career, the exhibition is centered around his rediscovered masterwork Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California (1878), which depicts a ceremonial dance of the Elem Pomo known as mfom Xe, or “people dance,” in an underground roundhouse. 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 Elem Pomo culture, while also exposing the threat posed by White settlers, including Parrott, who was then operating a toxic mercury mine on the community’s ancestral homelands. 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-day Elem Indian Colony.
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 paintings by Tavernier are shown alongside examples of 19th- to 21st-century Pomo basketry and regalia, including works by weaver Clint McKay (Dry Creek Pomo/Wappo/Wintun, born 1965), to celebrate the resiliency of Indigenous Pomo peoples and highlight their continued cultural presence today. The exhibition is presented in collaboration with Elem Pomo cultural leader and regalia maker Robert Joseph Geary and Dry Creek Pomo/Bodega Miwok scholar Sherrie Smith-Ferri, Ph.D.