Hartman H. Lomawaima, director of the Arizona State Museum, died Tuesday in Tucson after an 11-month battle with colon cancer, museum representatives said. He was 58.
Mr. Lomawaima was the 115-year-old museum’s sixth director and the first Native American in the post. He was born in the Hopi village of Sipalovi on Second Mesa in northern Arizona, a member of the Bear Clan.
Mr. Lomawaima became associate director of the museum in 1994, stepped up to interim director in 2002 and in 2004 was named director of the museum at the west edge of the University of Arizona campus. He also was a professor of American Indian studies.
Nancy Parezo, a colleague and friend, said Mr. Lomawaima was “a born administrator” who used his Hopi background to build consensus in a field that was consumed by politicized conflict.
He negotiated the return of burial, religious and ceremonial objects to tribes under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 and mediated a dispute over the appearance of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
“He could quietly forge a vision for everybody, listening to their opinions and then rearticulating them,” Parezo said. “He was able to bridge communities and to set the situation right.”
Mr. Lomawaima was driven by the idea of museums as places of cross-cultural communication, Arizona State Museum Associate Director Beth Grindell said. His major accomplishments centered on accessibility, she said.
He helped shepherd the Pottery Project, which started in 2000 with a grant from the Save America’s Treasures Initiative. The exhibit houses 20,000 whole ceramic vessels in a climate-controlled vault, part of which is open for public viewing. He also coordinated the renovation of the museum’s entryway.
The accessibility he made possible was an extension of his role as a boundary crosser, Grindell said. As one of the first Native American directors of anthropology museums, he signaled a change in institutional philosophy. “He turned the lens around,” she said.
In curating a presentation of Edward Curtis photographs taken on the Hopi Nation at the turn of the century, he tracked down the subjects of the photos and asked them what they thought of the photographer.
Mr. Lomawaima’s projects were not restricted to the state museum. He also worked with tribes that accepted the remains of their ancestors, the Governor’s Historical Advisory Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Association of Museums, which accredits U.S. museums, Grindell said.
Locally, he campaigned for the museum’s presence at Tucson Origins, where the Arizona State Museum will share a building with the UA Science Center in the Rio Nuevo project.
Mr. Lomawaima’s wife of 28 years, Tsianina, a professor of Indian American studies at UA, said the projects exemplified his greatest strength. “He loved people,” she said. “He was able to make people feel valued. It was his special gift.”
Funeral arrangements were being worked out Wednesday.