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December 18, 2021April 17, 2022

Jules Tavernier and the Elem Pomo

Upon its completion in 1878, Jules Tavernier’s Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California—which depicts a ceremonial dance (mfom Xe) of the Elem Pomo in an underground roundhouse (Xe-xwan) at Clear Lake (Xa’btin)—was hailed in a San Francisco newspaper as “by far the most remarkable picture ever painted on the Pacific Coast.” The French-born artist’s painting now returns to California for the first time in more than 140 years as the central focus of the Jules Tavernier and the Elem Pomo exhibition at the de Young. The exhibition includes more than a dozen paintings, watercolors, prints, and photographs by Jules Tavernier (1844–1889) and puts forth a new interpretation of his career masterwork and his other compositions of the Western United States by offering a multiplicity of voices and perspectives, including those of Pomo cultural leaders and curators. 

Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California chronicles a cultural interaction on November 22, 1875, between California Indians in their homelands and outsiders associated with the Sulphur Bank Quicksilver Mining Company operating on Elem ancestral lands. In the ensuing years, the mine would cause widespread mercury contamination of the lake, with grave and long-lasting repercussions for the Elem community. In this exhibition, presented alongside Tavernier’s Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California and other major works are more than fifty historic and contemporary Pomo baskets and regalia pieces that celebrate the enduring artistry and resiliency of the Pomo artists over several generations and highlight their continued cultural presence in their homelands today. 

Image: Jules Tavernier, "Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California," 1878. Oil on canvas, 48 × 72 1/4 in. (121.9 × 183.5 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2016 (2016.135)

In Depth

Jules Tavernier, Indian Village at Dawn, n.d. [ca. 1875 or ca. 1880–1884]. Oil on canvas, 18 x 34.75 in. (45.72 x 88.27 cm). Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Gift of the Thomas Gilcrease Foundation, 1955, 0136.1222. Courtesy of Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa OK

Jules Tavernier

A French Bohemian in the American West: 1873–1874. Born in France, Jules Tavernier trained as an artist and exhibited his paintings at the Paris Salon in the 1860s. He arrived in New York in August 1871, initially showcasing his skills as an illustrator with scenes of daily life and American landscapes. Hired by Harper’s Weekly, Tavernier traveled across the country to make a “pictorial record” of what he saw—including the impacts of the Transcontinental Railroad, rapid expansion of white settlement and the US government’s forced relocation of Indigenous communities from their ancestral lands to reservations. Tavernier sought out direct encounters with Native Americans, witnessing the Sun Dance ceremony and meeting Chief Red Cloud and Sitting Bull, a lieutenant headman of the Oglala Lakota Nation. Tavernier completed at least thirty paintings of Indigenous peoples over the course of his career, portraying ceremonies and gatherings, and the awe-inspiring beauty of the contested landscapes.

Artist Reverie in California: 1874–1884. By the summer of 1874, Jules Tavernier settled in San Francisco and soon became one of its leading artists. He brought his adventurous spirit to the city and immersed himself in the city’s art scene, garnering commissions from prominent patrons and the interest of the local press. He formed the Artists’ Union and was an early member of the Bohemian Club and San Francisco Art Association, as well as a founder and the first president of the San Francisco Palette Club. Drawing from his academic training, Tavernier adopted the use of vertical-format canvases to paint the towering trees of the Northern California landscapes and is credited with introducing pastel technique to San Francisco. 

In 1876, inspired by the region’s atmospheric coastal landscapes, he built a studio in Monterey, California, and helped to establish the Monterey Peninsula Art Colony. During his time in California, Tavernier offered viewers more intimate scenes, often with figures, in vividly lit landscapes, leading the San Francisco Chronicle to report that “there is a little of the natural with a good deal of the fantastical in his pictures.” 

The Kingdom of Hawai‘i, 1884–1889. Jules Tavernier’s itinerant lifestyle and unpaid bills prompted him to flee San Francisco, traveling to Hawai‘i in search of new subjects for his art. Arriving in December of 1884, he declared it an “artist’s paradise.” In Hawai‘i, Tavernier painted a series depicting the volcanoes, emphasizing the commanding and magnificent forces of nature. His work attracted many patrons, including the monarch of the kingdom, King Kalākaua. The success of these paintings launched what came to be known as the Volcano School and fueled tourism to the islands. Pele, a powerful female deity in Hawai‘i who embodies the many manifestations of volcanism, is revered as an environmental force capable of changing land formations. Well-circulated stories of Pele made Tavernier’s paintings all the more marketable to visitors. He died of a heart attack in his Honolulu studio at the age of forty-five.

The Elem Pomo and Basketmaking

The Elem Indian Colony is located on the shores of Clear Lake, where Southeastern Pomo communities have always lived. Jules Tavernier and the Elem Pomo has special resonance for Robert Geary, Elem Pomo tribal citizen, ceremonial roundhouse leader, and copresenter of the exhibition: “Through this exhibition I hope to educate the world about the beauty of my people and my village. The Elem Xe-xwan [roundhouse] still exists today with the ceremonies and the Elemfo [Elem people] that Tavernier painted in 1878.” The roundhouse was created in the 1870s in response to the great hardships of the Pomo people due to displacement, settler incursion, and decades of genocide and enslavement due to state laws. The circular-shaped structure symbolically represents a basket, providing protection and furtherance for the community. Pomo weavers mastered myriad ways of creating a basket, making Pomo baskets world-renowned for their variety, beauty, technique, and artistry. Baskets reflect the resilience of Pomo communities through the ability and creativity of weavers to adapt to economic and social change, enabling this core aspect of Pomo culture to survive the devastating effects of colonialism. Weaver Clint McKay (Dry Creek Pomo / Wappo / Wintun), whose works are included in the exhibition, states that “to us it [basketry] is the very essence of who we are as Pomo.” Contemporary pieces by Corine Pearce (Redwood Valley Little River Band of Pomo) and Susan Billy (Hopland Band of Pomo Indians) are also on view in the exhibition.

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Exhibition Organization

Jules Tavernier and the Elem Pomo is organized in partnership with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Co-curated by Elizabeth Kornhauser, Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, and Shannon Vittoria, Senior Research Associate, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in partnership with Christina Hellmich, Curator in Charge, Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. At the de Young, the exhibition is co-presented with Elem Pomo cultural leader and regalia maker Robert Geary; Dry Creek Pomo / Bodega Miwok scholar Sherrie Smith-Ferri, PhD; and Eastern Pomo artist and curator Meyo Marrufo; with additional contributions from Arthur Amiotte, Oglala Lakota artist and historian; Dorene Red Cloud (Oglala Lakota), Associate Curator of Native American Art at Eiteljorg Museum; and Healoha Johnston, Curator of Asian Pacific American Women’s Cultural History at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Patricia Marroquin Norby (Purépecha), PhD, Associate Curator of Native American Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is an adviser to the project.

Co-presenters and Contributors

Robert Geary

Robert Geary is an enrolled tribal citizen of the Elem Indian Colony of Pomo Indians in Lake County, California. He is currently a Xaitsnoo language teacher, traditional ceremonial roundhouse leader, and founder and president of the Clear Lake Pomo Cultural Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit organization for protection and preservation of tribal cultural resources. Geary has been a guest speaker at several academic institutions, including Purdue University, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis, on language revitalization and cultural awareness. Currently, Geary is employed with the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake, Cultural Resources Department as the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.

Sherrie Smith-Ferri

Sherrie Smith-Ferri, PhD, is a member of Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians and also descended from Bodega Bay Miwok people. She recently retired from a thirty-year career as executive director and curator of Ukiah’s Grace Hudson Museum. Smith-Ferri has extensively studied and written about Pomo basketry and Pomo peoples’ history as well as participated in several exhibitions on the same subjects. She is currently working for Dry Creek Rancheria to create a tribal museum and archives and is the author of the forthcoming book From Diggers Bend to River Rock: Dry Creek Rancheria People and History.

Meyo Marrufo

Meyo Marrufo is Eastern Pomo from the Clear Lake basin. While her tribe is from Robinson Rancheria, she has lived and learned from other California tribes, including Yurok, Hupa, Maidu, and Miwok territories. Marrufo has learned from many gifted artists over the years, focusing on cultural arts, regalia making, and traditional foods and cooking techniques. She teaches classes in Northern California in these methods, focused on continuing this knowledge and renewing it for future generations. Her digital artwork shows examples of basket patterns, traditional dancing, and Pomo life, and is shown throughout California. In addition, as a Tribal Environmental Director, Meyo works hands-on with the protection of the Pomo cultural landscape. She is working directly to impact the restoration and protection of our tribal lifeways.

Arthur Amiotte

Arthur Amiotte is an Oglala Lakota artist, art historian, and educator from the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. He received his Master’s of Interdisciplinary Studies in 1983 from the University of Montana at Missoula and became a professor of Native American art history at Brandon University, Manitoba. By 1986, he pursued his artistic career, establishing a studio in Custer, South Dakota. He has participated in over 100 exhibitions, exhibiting paintings, sculptures, and textiles works. His works are included in major museums such as the Denver Art Museum, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and The Hood Museum of Art, among others. He has also curated numerous exhibitions on the culture of the tribes on the Great Plains.

Dorene Red Cloud

Dorene Red Cloud is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She received her Master of Arts in American Indian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Ceramics at the University of Michigan, and Associate of Fine Arts in Museum Studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Red Cloud worked at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution as a Repatriation Research Specialist from 1999–2003. After a number of years spent working outside the museum field, she joined the Eiteljorg Museum as assistant curator of Native American art in October 2016. Originally, from Chicago, IL, Red Cloud currently resides in Indianapolis, IN, and when not working, she is either creating a new art piece or pursuing mid-century treasure hunts at a local yard sale or antique store.

Healoha Johnston

Healoha Johnston lives in Kaiwiki, Hawai‘i and is Curator of Asian Pacific American Women’s Cultural History at the Smithsonian Institution where she is part of the American Women’s History Initiative and the Asian Pacific American Center. Johnston’s exhibitions and research projects explore connections between historic visual culture and contemporary art with a particular focus on the socio-political underpinnings that inform those relationships. Johnston served as Chief Curator and Curator of the Arts of Hawaiʻi, Oceania, Africa, and the Americas at the Honolulu Museum of Art, and has worked in contemporary art galleries, arts and cultures non-profit organizations, and NOAA’s Pacific National Monument program. She received her BA and MA in Art History with a focus on Pacific Art from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Resources and Bibliography

  • A selection of further reading on the life and career of Jules Tavernier; the history of California’s Indigenous peoples; and Pomo basketmaking
  • Abel-Vidor, Suzanne, Dot Brovarney, and Susan Billy. Remember Your Relations: The Elsie Allen Baskets, Family and Friends (Ukiah, Calif.: Grace Hudson Museum; Oakland: Oakland Museum of California; Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1996).
  • Anderson, Kat. Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2013).
  • Atkins, Damon and William Bauer. We Are the Land: A History of Native California (Oakland: University of California Press, 2021).
  • Baillio, Joseph. “Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake,” The Masterpiece of the Franco-American Painter Jules Tavernier (1844-1889) (New York: Wildenstein and Co., 2014).
  • Bauer, William. California Through Native Eyes: Reclaiming History (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2016).
  • Berman, Judith, Sally McLendon, Victoria Patterson, and Sherrie Smith-Ferri. Pomo Indian Basket Weavers, their Baskets and the Art Market, special issue of Expedition: The Magazine of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology 40, no. 1 (1998).
  • Bibby, Brian. Essential Art: Native Basketry from the California Indian Heritage Center (Berkeley: Heyday, 2012).
  • Chalmers, Claudine. Chronicling the West for Harper’s: Coast to Coast with Frenzeny and Tavernier in 1873-1874 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013).
  • Chalmers, Claudine, Scott A. Shields, and Alfred C. Harrison, Jr. Jules Tavernier: Artist & Adventurer (Portland, Oregon: Pomegranate; Sacramento, Calif.: Crocker Art Museum, 2013).
  • Madley, Benjamin. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846–1873 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016).
  • Sarris, Greg. Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2013). 
  • Shields, Scott A. Artists at Continent's End: The Monterey Peninsula Art Colony, 1875-1907 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).
  • Smith-Ferri, Sherrie. “Basket Weavers, Basket Collectors, and the Market: A Case Study of Joseppa Dick.” Museum Anthropology 17, no. 2 (June 1993), pp. 61-66.

Digital labels are available for this exhibition.

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