A Mancos art collector will donate a rare set of ceremonial Hopi wedding robes to the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College.
Kelly Kilgore, owner of Kilgore American Indian Art in Mancos, said the cotton robes are hand-woven by the men in the community and are used during weddings.
“I want it to be archived and preserved for future generations,” she said.
Kilgore collects Native American artifacts from all over the Southwest and sells them in her shop. Her parents were traders at Tuba City on the Navajo Nation starting in the 1950s.
Kilgore’s mother acquired the set of robes several decades ago. The set, which is from the mid-20th century, is complete with a wedding robe, a pair of moccasins, a black-and-red sash, a burial robe and a reed “suitcase” that holds the burial robe.
Shelby Tisdale, Director of the Center of Southwest Studies, said the set is special because it is complete and has evidence that it was worn during an actual Hopi wedding ceremony.
“The whole set is just phenomenal,” she said. “It’s very rare that someone has the whole Hopi wedding set.”
Tisdale said she had never seen a complete set like Kilgore’s in her 36 years of museum work. She said they will do research, some interpretive work and display the robe hopefully within the next two years.
The Center will be able to put together a mannequin-like display of the robes and display information about the Hopi wedding ceremony for students to learn more about that process, Tisdale said. It will be added to the Durango collection at the Center, she added.
The Hopi bury the dead within 24 hours, and they are buried in the shroud, Kilgore said.
“It gives me chills,” Kilgore said of the burial robe in the set.
Tisdale said the men weave one robe for the woman to wear during her weddind, and a second robe for her burial. The bride carries the burial robe in the reed suitcase during the wedding, Tisdale said.
People in the ceremony wear corn pollen, which is an important part of many Hopi ceremonies, Tisdale said. Kilgore’s set of robes has traces of corn pollen and white clay on it, which is evidence that it was worn during a wedding ceremony, Tisdale said.
Kilgore has also worked as an appraiser for the Heard Museum of American Indian Art in Phoenix for 25 years. She said the quality of the weaving in the robe set was impressive, and it takes years for the men to weave such a set.
Kilgore said she considered sending it to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., but decided to keep it somewhere closer to home.
“To have it here locally is fabulous,” she said. “I’m really happy that this will have this wonderful home.”
Tisdale said it’s a special donation, and Kilgore’s knowledge of the artifacts has been helpful.
“We’re really lucky that she thought of us as being a good home for these pieces,” Tisdale said. “We’re really loving the fact that we’re going to have this.”