Hadley Jensen’s research addresses the intersections between art, anthropology, and material culture. She is currently Bard Graduate Center/AMNH Postdoctoral Fellow in Museum Anthropology, a three-year appointment at Bard Graduate Center and in the Anthropology Division at the Richard Gilder Graduate School of the American Museum of Natural History. Her doctoral dissertation, Shaped by the Camera: Navajo Weavers and the Photography of Making in the American Southwest, 1880-1945, examines the visual documentation of Navajo weaving through various modes and media of representation. She believes in the close examination of objects/artworks/creative expressions as an integral part of learning about their material qualities and methods of production, and she is particularly interested in advancing interdisciplinary methodologies to better understand processes of making. In addition, she has hands-on experience learning Indigenous weaving and natural dyeing practices (Navajo and Zapotec), which has strengthened and enlivened her work as an academic researcher, curator, and teacher.

Jensen has developed her interests in museum anthropology, textiles, Indigenous ecology, and ethnographic media in a variety of fellowship positions & research opportunities, including at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archives, National Museum of Natural History, de Young Museum, Otsego Institute for Native American Art History, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Autry Museum of the American West. Her work has also been supported by the Textile Society of America, The Center for Craft, and the Lunder Institute for American Art.

Project Summary

Jensen’s postdoctoral project, Shaped by the Loom: Weaving Worlds in the American Southwest (working title), will be the first to showcase the AMNH’s collection of Indigenous textiles from the greater American Southwest. By exploring the various modes and contexts of intercultural influence, adaptation, and exchange in the region, her research examines the trans-historical conditions for change in this particular medium, and how it is intertwined with materials, objects, and social practices that articulate both cultural and regional identities. While it focuses on Navajo textiles, comparisons are made with Pueblo and Hispanic weaving traditions to show regional variation in—and transmission of—motifs, materials, techniques, and technologies.

In highlighting the various ways in which Indigenous peoples in the region have shaped their own histories regarding craft production, this project diverges from previous analytic strategies to re-center Indigenous aesthetics and ways of knowing. As a result, it emphasizes weaving as a cultural practice, a mode of engagement with the natural world, and a system of Indigenous knowledge production and transmission, in addition to acknowledging its (predominantly non-Native) economic and institutional history of collection, display, and publication.

Shaped by the Loom brings into dialogue multiple aspects of craft process, including the tangible and the intangible, the visual and the tacit. It strives to de-formalize Navajo weaving to shift our analysis away from the development of periods, designs, and styles toward an alternative framework—one that emphasizes Native agency in the history of textile production. It takes many voices to tell this story, bringing different cultures of knowledge production into conversation and highlighting the diversity of perspectives embedded within these narratives.

With generous support from Bard Graduate Center and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, Jensen’s research will culminate in a Focus Project digital exhibition in Fall 2021.