Until recently, few people knew that Texas is home to one of the largest and most diverse bodies of rock art in the New World.
For decades, numerous pioneering individuals devoted considerable time and energy to the documentation and preservation of the prehistoric rock art. In 1931, the Witte Museum’s Assistant Director, “Miss Emma” Gutzeit, led expeditions and teams to pictograph sites in the Lower Pecos, while artist Virginia Carson made the first effort to document Lower Pecos rock art through beautifully vivid watercolor paintings. Working closely with local landowners and ranchers, such as Guy Skiles, Gutzeit, together with talented archaeologists such as A.T. Jackson, James Pearce, E.B. Sayles, George C. Martin and others, made groundbreaking discoveries. Dr. and Mrs. D.J. Sibley, with their friend and local rancher, Rose Mary Jones, later convinced the state to purchase Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site as a refuge for examples a broad range of the prehistoric pictograph styles. Solveig Turpin and her colleagues searched for and documented previously unknown sites. Jim Zintgraff photographed many sites. Faced with the realization that the art was deteriorating at a rapid pace, an extraordinary group of individuals decided to coordinate their efforts by forming a foundation that could enlist the talents of a wider segment of the public. The Rock Art Foundation (RAF) was established in 1991 and attained 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status in 1992.
In January 2017, the Rock Art Foundation officially transferred its assets, property, administration and activities to the Witte Museum. This momentous gift includes ownership and protection of one of the most significant archaeological sites in North America, the White Shaman Preserve, located on the Pecos River, near the Seminole Canyon State Historical Park. This astounding site was purchased by Rock Art Foundation board members Gale and Connie Galloway and generously donated to the Foundation. For decades, the Rock Art Foundation has led the way in stewardship, access and passion about the people and history of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. The Rock Art Foundation includes more than 900 members, who are now Witte Museum Members.
The Witte Museum’s long history of study and excavation in the Lower Pecos region of Texas dates to the 1930s; currently, it houses more than 20,000 artifacts from these ancient sites. With the opening of the New Witte in March 2017, visitors have unparalleled opportunities to be transformed through immersive experiences of prehistoric life in the Kittie West Nelson Ferguson People of the Pecos Gallery and also on-site at White Shaman Preserve and other sites in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands.
ROCK ART TOURS AND THE NEW WITTE
Continuing the pioneering work of the Rock Art Foundation, for which it is named in recognition of its gift, and ensuring its enduring legacy for generations to come, the Witte Museum is proud to offer access to the Rock Art Foundation White Shaman Preserve, as well as numerous additional prehistoric and historic sites throughout the Lower Pecos region of West Texas. Witte Curator of Anthropology and Health, Dr. Bryan Bayles, works closely with Rock Art Foundation leaders and guide teams to offer Texas State Parks educational hiking tours. The Witte Museum’s Tour Guide Team will be developed over the next several years, and currently includes the Rock Art Foundation Tour Guides, more than 20 dedicated guide volunteers with decades of experience. Thousands of people will have the opportunity to experience the rock art of the Lower Pecos through a program of guided tours that offer transformative aesthetic and educational experiences.
Witte Museum members will receive discounted tickets to all Rock Art Foundation guided tours. The New Witte galleries, together with the life-transforming tours of the White Shaman Preserve and other Lower Pecos Canyonlands rock art sites, foster an appreciation for these endangered artistic treasures, and serve to rally support for their preservation and further study.
The New Witte’s Kittie West Nelson Ferguson People of the Pecos Gallery features life-size, immersive dioramas such as:
· The Patty and Robert Hayes Habitation diorama
· The Barbara and George Williams Fate Bell Shelter
· The Nancy Smith Hurd Rock Art Lab
· The Capital Group Companies Outdoor Lab
· The Lifeways Lab
The Gallery and Labs provide numerous opportunities for schoolchildren and entire families to experience and investigate the rock art, lifeways and stories of the people who lived in one of the best-preserved and most significant archaeological regions of the world. For thousands of years, these resourceful people left intriguing art narratives in limestone rock shelters, as well as artifacts that attest to stunningly efficient ways of hunting animals and gathering plants for food in what is now Texas.
To prepare for this major exhibition, Witte Museum President and CEO, Marise McDermott, and Witte Museum Curator of Archaeology, Dr. Harry J. Shafer, brought together 14 renowned scholars for a series of colloquia and a subsequent groundbreaking book, Painters in Prehistory: Archeology and Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands (Trinity University Press, 2013). Another recent book, The White Shaman Mural: An Enduring Creation Narrative in the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos (University of Texas Press, 2016), by Dr. Carolyn Boyd, explores pathfinding new hypotheses and interpretations about this magnificent site. Lower Pecos rock art, exemplified by the White Shaman site, contains rich narratives of the lifeways and beliefs of the area’s earliest inhabitants. While their meanings continue to be studied and debated, they are among the most complex rock art sites in the world.
Websites to visit:
Due to renovations taking place at Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site, the 2020 Rock Art Rendezvous has been cancelled. However, we look forward to hosting the 2021 Rock Art Rendezvous and will announce a winter date soon.
In the meantime, guided tours to the White Shaman and other rock art sites are still being offered. Please visit our website for more information and to reserve your tour: http://www.wittemuseum.org/rock-art-tour-calendar/