Art and Archaeology: Introduction

By Schwartzlose, Richard A.; Ferg, Alan | Journal of the Southwest, Summer-Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

Art and Archaeology: Introduction

Schwartzlose, Richard A., Ferg, Alan, Journal of the Southwest

This issue of Journal of the Southwest is devoted to Norton Allen (1909-1997), his life as an artist, and the collection of Native American materials he amassed over seven decades, despite the profound health problems that affected him for the majority of his adult life. It must be noted that Norton could not have led such an active and productive life without the support of his parents, Ernest and Lenna, and of his wife, Ethel.

Norton became interested in Indians at an early age. He briefly went to grammar school with Kumeyaay children on the old Conejos Reservation, and learned from Kumeyaay elders how to make arrowheads. By the time he was thirteen, he and his father were hunting for pottery and artifacts in caves and shelters in the backcountry of San Diego County. From his late teens and for the next sixty years he collected artifacts in southern California, northern Baja California, western Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, but he worked primarily in the Gila Bend area of Arizona. It is the forty seasons of archaeological work near Gila Bend that is Norton's greatest contribution to the world of archaeology, and that continues to yield data for researchers studying new questions. Norton asked permission from landowners before excavating, and although he collected objects from burials, as was the practice of the time, he generally reburied human remains where he found them. His field notes were often as good as those of contemporaneous professional archaeologists.

For many years, Norton exchanged ideas and letters with many people interested in archaeology, including professionals and avocational archaeologists, as well as just plain pothunters. A list of his correspondents reads like a who's who of Arizona archaeology of the period. The contributors to this issue have quoted from many of the preserved letters. All quotations are verbatim, including the occasional misspellings, unorthodox punctuation and grammar, and use of the name "Papago" in place of the tribe's currently preferred name, Tohono O'odham.

In addition to maintaining voluminous correspondence with other archaeologists, Norton read extensively about archaeology, perusing professional papers, journals, and books. He knew a great deal about prehistoric Arizona, especially Hohokam prehistory. Extrapolating from his knowledge of developing film, he pioneered a technique of leaching destructive salts out of Hohokam pottery. He was also a master restorer of pottery who could so expertly repair a broken pot, plain or painted, evidently with the same materials the Hohokam used, that it can be extremely difficult to see where the damage was.

Norton and his family always made all of the items they collected available for study by anyone interested in better understanding Southwestern Native Americans. Over the years, Norton's collections have been donated to various museums and universities in California and Arizona, with the Tohono O'odham Nation specifically named as having first priority for use of the extensive Hohokam collection. Hundreds of photographs and maps, and many binders of correspondence, drawings, and sketches, are also housed at the Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona, Tucson.

When Norton was not collecting artifacts, he was often creating some kind of art--drawings, photographs, and the work for which he was best known, his maps. Norton's earliest drawing, of the hundreds we have found, was done when he was fourteen. By the time he was fifteen, he was taking photographs and printing them in his homemade darkroom. He created his first map of the more than seven hundred he drew for Desert Magazine in 1937. His photographs and maps were also published in several other periodicals and books, in both the United States and Europe, and have always been highly regarded for their quality and accuracy.

This issue of Journal of the Southwest begins with an extensive biography of Norton by Richard A. …

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