Castañeda Museum of Ethnic Costume Seeks Permanent Location in Downtown

November 2, 2015

A pair of masks and leg wraps made of empty butterfly cocoons, used in traditional dances.

A pair of masks and leg wraps made of empty butterfly cocoons, used in traditional Yaqui dances, including the Deer Dance.

by Mariana Colín

Gayle Castañeda’s love of ethnic costume is 56 years in the making. From the time a relative brought her a doll from their vacation in Europe, Gayle has been fascinated with traditional folk and ethnic clothing from all over the world, a fascination that soon became more than just a hobby.

“One day I looked at the dolls I had collected and thought: ‘Why not find the real thing?’” says Gayle of the origins of the Castañeda Museum of Ethnic Costume, which she founded in 1988.

The Castañeda Museum has been nomadic over the past several years, moving from host to host and setting up small exhibits, often inside other museums. Currently, an exhibit on the Tohono O’odham and Yaqui ethnic costumes is open in two rooms of the Sosa-Carillo-Fremont house, a small example of classic Tucson adobe architecture standing in the middle of Downtown. The house, saved from the destruction of the old neighborhood when the Tucson Convention Center was built, is the northernmost example of the iconic original architecture for which Barrio Viejo is so famous.

Yes, the deer is real.

Yes, the deer is real.

Looking at the Castañeda Museum’s relatively small display in the Sosa-Carrillo-Freemont House, it’s hard to believe that such an expansive collection was largely pulled together by one person (with some curating and organizational help from Candee, Gayle’s daughter). Each piece is labelled with detail and care, a fact Gayle takes an understandable amount of pride in.

“I’m very particular about what I put up as information,” says Gayle. “We’re here to show people, to educate. I have a responsibility to who I’m representing as well as to the community at large.” Hearing her talk about each item on display, Gayle’s knowledgeability and respect for where they came from is obvious—she has a story and an explanation for every single piece.

For Candee, a museum’s ability to present real examples of history is something holds a lot of personal meaning as well. “I’m dyslexic,” she says. “And so for me as a kid, going to museums was amazing.” With the Castaneda Museum, she hopes to do her part in making that kind of tactile learning available to others.

A kachina depicts an ogre woman, whose hunger for bad children was used to scare many a Native kid back in the day.

A kachina depicts an ogre woman, whose hunger for bad children was used to scare many a Hopi kid back in the day.

Over the past few decades, Gayle has created a small network of anthropologists and sources within local Arizona tribes, which is where she gets most of the items she has on display right now, including Tucson icons like a headpiece from the traditional Yaqui Deer Dance and textiles from tribes across the region.

But as extensive as the histories and cultures of Native American tribes are, the Castañeda Museum doesn’t limit itself to collecting only their artifacts for display. Included in the items she as in storage, for example, is a traditional Thai dance mask with an incredibly detailed snarling face, covered in gold, jewels, and seemingly every other shiny substance known to man. Though Thailand is as different in location and culture from Southern Arizona as possible, Gayle doesn’t differentiate between the two in terms of their historical importance.

The Castaneda Museum will have their exhibit on display at the Sosa-Carillo-Fremont House through November.

The Castaneda Museum will have their exhibit on display at the Sosa-Carillo-Fremont House through November.

Gayle’s collection has long outgrown the space she has for it. With over 3000 unique items from across the globe in storage, the Castañeda Museum is looking to become Downtown’s newest permanent museum. With exhibit designers already on board and an enthusiastic welcome from an open space next to the Scottish Rite Temple, Gayle and Candee are hoping they can soon raise enough money to have a place to display the amazing examples of ethnic costume they’ve amassed over the years.

“This is about one-tenth of a percent of what we have,” says Candee. “It doesn’t do us or anyone any good to have all this packed away.”

For more information about the Castañeda Museum, or to donate to their fund to find a permanent location, visit their website here or email candee@castanedamuseum.org

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