The Speer Collection A Gift of Don and Kelly Speer
The Collections staff of Barona Cultural Center & Museum is undertaking an in-depth analysis of the Museum’s largest and oldest collection, the Speer Collection. An examination of each individual object contributes to the understanding of the big picture of the Barona ancestors’ long tenure in this region. This detailed catalogue produced for immediate access to Tribal Members, the public and outside researchers fulfills our mission as a Tribal Museum.
History of the Collection:
Approximately 50 miles east of Barona Indian Reservation lays the dusty, rocky, winding road known as California State Route 2 (SR2). Better known as the Great Overland Stage Route of 1849, the road has had many lifetimes serving as a pathway between cultures, villages, and people. In the 1700s, portions of the trail were utilized by the Spanish under the governance of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. In the early 1800s, the trail served as a Mexican mail route that was known to plague wagon wheels and horse hooves. In the late 1800s, it was the most daunting portion of the trek across the country made by the Mormon Battalion. Additionally, in a publication from 1984 titled Just Before Sunset, Tom Lucas (Kwaaymii) discusses the area as consisting of established trails connecting permanent and temporary Kwaaymii and Kumeyaay settlements. The trade network consisted of permanent villages, winter camps, and gathering areas from the valleys of San Felipe, Mason, Vallecitos, and McCain, and the mountains of Coyote, Jacumba, and Inkopah.p>
This Collection comes primarily from the back country of San Diego, such as the areas of Mason Valley, Vallecitos Valley, and McCain Valley and consists of manos, pestles, metates, projectile points, doughnut stones, arrow-shaft straighteners, cog stones and numerous other artifacts. Along with these prehistoric objects, the ethnohistoric work of Rosa Lopez (Manzanita Reservation) appears in the collection with pottery bowls, jars, and plates. These original works featured unique design elements applied by Rosa Lopez sometime around the 1940s. Often the pottery was signed “Wasp,” a corrupted English version of her Kumeyaay name, Owas Hilmawa. In the Collection’s early history, several objects were exhibited at San Diego’s Junípero Serra Museum and later, at the San Diego Museum of Man. The Collection, over 3,000 objects, lay hidden in the basement of a San Diego family home for many years.
In 1997, Don and Kelly Speer were instrumental in acquiring this newly discovered collection of precious objects for the future Barona Cultural Center & Museum. As an advisor to Barona’s gaming business, Don Speer hoped to assist Barona in their dream of establishing a Tribal Museum. The Speer family hired archaeologist Richard Carrico to evaluate the collection. Carrico carefully inspected each item and described the collection as “priceless.” Seeking to purchase and donate the unique collection to Barona, the Speers asked Tribal Council, including Chairman Clifford LaChappa, Vice Chairman Beaver Curo, Councilwoman Melinda Rodriguez, and Linda Curo, to visit and examine the collection. With Tribal Council approval, the Collection was purchased and donated by the Speers and became the founding collection for Barona Cultural Center & Museum. For the first time since the 1940s, treasures of the Speer Collection were presented for the opening Barona Museum exhibition. Subsequent exhibitions in the 15-year span of the Museum’s history have highlighted several Speer objects. Utilized in education and exhibitions throughout the southern California region, the collection items serve as historical, educational, and cultural resources. While these formats have contributed immensely to the learning and scholarship of Kumeyaay/Diegueño culture among southern California communities, the collection will now be known to a worldwide audience of researchers and scholars through this online catalogue.
In processing this large collection, we started with the biggest and heaviest items, the 'ehpii (metate), 'ehmuu (mortar), and other large groundstone, and then analyzed our diverse collection of over 250 hapiichaa (mano). Hapiichaa is a hand stone used to process acorns and other food and materials on the 'ehpii, grinding stone base, and an 'ehmuu is a deep stone bowl used with a long, heavy stone called esally (pestle) to pound food and materials. Included are unique items termed “doughnut stones” and “discoidals” that are found archaeologically throughout southern California and are represented in the Speer Collection. These objects have been a puzzle for archaeologists for many years. Critical to food processing and procurement are the great numbers of flaked stone in the collection, including nearly 1300 paawii and kwerraaw (projectile, dart and spear points), whole and fragmentary. Museum staff utilize a specialized microscope for minute details in rock identification, use-wear patterns on stone artifacts, as well as to analyze the temper and material makeup of ceramics. The Collection contains about 200 ceramic vessels and hundreds of pottery sherds. While each ceramic vessel is unique, researchers are now looking at the finishing of rims of the ‘askaay (pottery vessel). It has been indicated by some Tribal Members that the finishing touches of the rims functioned as a tactile identifier of the maker/owner of the vessel. Since we know the identity of the artists for some of the ceramic vessels in the Speer Collection, further research may help us in attributing more works of art to this artist and possibly aid us in revealing unknown artists.
The artifacts within the Speer Collection have had a long journey. Some removed from their original homes over a century ago, the Collection has endured many transitions until finally being returned to its original people. Perhaps most importantly, this study for the online catalogue tells us of partnerships through time—from the shared recipes and techniques of the ancestors, to the joint venture of the Speer Family and Barona Tribal Council in recovering these items, to our shared approaches today in our analysis and interpretation in understanding personal touches and identification markers of the artists/makers. The fate of this Collection once lingered in a dark basement; it is this path of partnership that brings to light the importance of the Speer Collection and the fascinating story of Barona history.