Peter Furst, Anthropologist Extraordinaire
Introduction of Dr. Peter Furst
Eugene Garfield
   Chairman Emeritus, ISI
      3501 Market Street
       Philadelphia, PA 19104

On the occasion of the opening of the Mystic Vision exhibition
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology
Philadelphia, PA.  U.S.A.
November 9 2003

Link to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology website:

Rosof  L. "Visionary Art: A shaman-artist's yarn paintings feature brilliant colors, dreamlike imagery, and rich cultural significance"
The Pennsylvania Gazette, p.48-49, January / February 2004

About 30 years ago, I first encountered Huichol art at the home of Olga Vasquez in San Jose, CA. She and her husband Bob Brooks had a collection of Huichol paintings theywere selling.  I was attracted to this exciting primitive art andits bold use of bright primary colors, almost childlike composition.  So I immediately bought a 2� x 2� painting.   Later, I was offeredand bought their entire collection of 50 paintings (see       for a selection).

Subsequently, Olga introduced me to the Huichol culture and religion.  She had lived with the Huichols while doing research for her master�s thesis about exceptional children. In 1981 she arranged for me to visit the Huichol settlement in San Andres. The Instituto Nacional Indigenista, somewhat like our Bureau of Indian Affairs, operates a shuttle air service from Magdalena into the mountain villages.  These small planes simply take off and land on an air strip parallel to the village.

The Huichols of Mexicoare a small community of about fifteen-thousand scattered among numerous villages in the southern mountains of Mexico�s Sierra Madre Occidental Range.  Some think they are the descendants of the Toltecs and theAztecs; others believe they are linked with the coastal tribes of Nayarit, and settled in the Sierra long before the Aztecs entered the valley of Mexico.  Until the 1960s, their culture had resisted centuries of outside influences.  So the Mexican government introduced programs to aid the Huichol.  They built air strips and clinics.  This facilitated the sale of the Huichol art.

Yarn paintings consistof brightly colored yarn pressed into warm beeswax spread on a plywood panel.  The largest panels in Mexico are 8 x 4 feet.  The most common pieces are 2� x 2�. Usually, the story is described on the back in Spanish and signed by the artist.

During one of my trips to Mexico, Olga introduced me to Emeteria Rios Martinez in Tepic, the capital of Nayarit.   She had moved there from San Andres.  After learning how she and other Huichols were exploited by middlemen, I became her patron and began sending her a monthly stipend which enabled her to work full time on her yarn paintings.  As a child, Emeteria was taught traditional methods by one of her distant relatives, Jos� Ben�tez S�nchez, whose work you will see in the exhibit today.  AsEmeteria�s work evolved from primitive to more sophisticated expression, you could see the influence of Ben�tez S�nchez.

I�m happy to say that Emeteria�sartwork adorns the walls of my home and office, many libraries and museums around the world. Not the least is the mural �Birth of the Sun� at theUniversity Museum. Most of them can be seen on my website at on Art on the left).  At one time I had 16 yarn paintings onmy bedroom wall. It was like a shot of LSD.

Emeteria died in 1994 ofuterine cancer at the age of 42. Fortunately, in 1985, we were able to host her here in Philadelphia. Emeteria conducted a seminar and workshopat ISI .This mother of 10 children was an inspiration to the 50 librarians and others we invited to the seminar, including Pamela Jardine.  Emeteria taught them how to create their own paintings. She spoke in Spanish with simultaneous translation by Olga Vasquez.

The Huichol form of artas we know it started about 1965 when Peter Furst persuaded a Huichol artisan to portray his cultural heritage in a narrative form, using technique sthat had previously been used only in the creation of devotional items.Iam delighted that Peter could be with us today to help open this exhibit.

I first wrote about the�Psychedelic Art of the Huichol Indians� in December, 1979 (see[1]   Twoyears later in 1981, I wrote about the �Huichol Mythology and Culture ( [2] That essay contained a detailed description of the first 12 x 8 muralcreated by Emeteria for the ISI building when it opened in 1979 in University City. That mural occupied the wall outside my office for about ten years.Then it was loaned to the Duke University Museum of Art for two years, and then to the Denver Museum of Art where it still resides (see triptych at the Field Museum in Chicago inspired me to ask Emeteria to use three of the 8 x 4 boards to create a 12 x 8 mural. I urge you to see the detailed reproduction on my website or better still, visit the museum!

Emeteria also created a mural about and for children which resides at the Caring Center at 31st and Spring Garden Streets (see[3] Five years later in 1986, I wrote about the �Pilgrimage to Wirikuta,�a unique 10 X 2 foot painting that resides in my library (see[4]

In my writings, I have acknowledged the key role of Peter Furst in the history of Huichol artand culture.  In my very first essay,  I referred to his work on the Art of Being Huichol [5]  published in 1978 in the book Art of the Huichol Indians.When it was out of print I urged the people at the de Young Museum in San Francisco to have it reprinted and when it was, I immediately distributed 50 copies around the world.  It is now out of print again. However, used copies can be found on the Internet.

Here is a quote from Peter  I used back in 1979.[6]

�For the Huichol, art is prayer and direct communication with and participation in the sacred realm.  It is meant to assure the good and beautiful life; health and fertility of crops, animals,and people; prosperity of the individual, the kin group, and the larger society." 

Before closing, let megive you a few facts about Peter Furst.  He received his Ph.D. fromthe University of California at Los Angeles in 1966.  His initial ethnographic fieldwork took him to the Warao country in the Orinoco Delta of Venezuela.  Dr. Furst researched the Huichol peoples for nearly four decades.

From 1965 to 1971, he worked closely with the well-known shaman-artist Ram�n Medina Silva, who pioneered the narrative yarn painting.  In1968, he was curator of the world�s first exhibition of Huichol yarn paintings. Drawn from a collection of Ram�n Medina�s artwork at UCLA, the exhibition was held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.   More recently, in 1996 the University of New Mexico Press published Peopleof the Peyote: Huichol Indian History, Religion, and Survival, which he co-edited and to which he contributed the opening chapter.

He was elected a Foreign Fellow by the prestigious Linnean Society of London for his work on sacred  plants, including the peyote cactus which the Huichol hold to be divine.Dr.Furst is the author or co-author of more than 150 published papers and books.   He is the curator of this fantastic exhibition called �Mythic Visions:Yarn Paintings of a Huichol Shaman.  �He is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Latin American Studies at the State University of New York at Albany and a Research Associate in the American Section here at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Having said this, I can truly say Peter Furst needs no further introduction. It is my great pleasure to introduce you to
Dr. Peter Furst, anthropologist extraordinaire.

References : 

1.  Garfield E. �The Psychedelic Artof the Huichol Indians,� Current Contents No. 52, pgs. 5-7 (December24-31,1979). Reprinted in Essays of an Information Scientist, Volume 4, pgs 348-350.Philadelphia: ISI Press (1981).
2.  a) Garfield E.�Huichol Mythology and Culture.Part 1.World�s Largest Yarn Painting is Latest in Series of ISI-Commissioned Artworks,�Current Contents No. 28, pgs. 5-11 (1981). Reprinted in Essays of an Information Scientist, Volume 5, pgs. 164-170.Philadelphia: ISI Press (1983).
2.  b) Garfield E. �Huichol Mythology and Culture.Part2. Can the Huichols Absorb Modern Technology and Retain Their Differences?� Current Contents No. 29, pgs 5-11 (July 20, 1981)
4.  Garfield E.�Huichol Art at ISI:�Pilgrimage to Wirikuta� by Emeteria Rios Martinez and �Ni�os Huicholes� by Lark Lucas,� Current Contents No. 22, pgs. 3-8 (June 2, 1986).Reprinted in Essays of an Information Scientist, Volume 9, pgs. 176-181 (1988).
5.  Furst, P.T.�The Art of �Being Huichol,�K. Berrin, ed., Art of the Huichol Indians.New York:Abrams, 212 pgs.(1978)
6.  Garfield E.�The Psychedelic Art of the Huichol Indians,� Current Contents No. 52, pg. 6 (December 24-31, 1979).Reprinted in Essays of an Information Scientist, Volume 4, pg. 349.Philadelphia: ISI Press (1981).