Remembering Adelina Alva-Padilla
As we remember our departed friend and advisor Adelina Alva-Padilla (1936–2023), longtime staff members from the Department of Anthropology shared some of their memories of how her life was interwoven with ours.
“She was always very positive and friendly,” remembers John Johnson, who looks back on 40 years of connection: “I first became acquainted with Adelina when I met with a group of elders at the Santa Ynez Reservation in 1983 to share early-twentieth-century photographs that had been recently discovered among John Harrington’s papers at the National Anthropological Archives.”
As spiritual leader, NAGPRA representative, and chair of the Elders Council for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, Alva-Padilla was a key consultant for the Museum. She joined our California Indian Advisory Council in the late 1980s and participated in public programs celebrating Native American heritage here. Johnson recalls, “Adelina participated in our Museum’s Chumash Cultural Circle that Kathy Conti organized in the 1990s. Our friendship grew during this period and on the field trips that were part of that program. Adelina would always drop by the Department of Anthropology to visit when she was in the area. She shared information about her family history, and I helped her with researching her ancestry using archival records.”
Jan Timbrook shared the memory of a particular time when Alva-Padilla's support came at a critical moment.
“In the spring of 2000, I was deeply immersed in developing the Museum’s special summer exhibit, Strands of Life: the Nature of Native American Basketry.” Timbrook's plan for this exhibit was ambitious: it would feature several hundred North American Indian baskets from the Anthropology Collections, along with some newer baskets loaned by contemporary weavers. “The goal was to show the diverse roles of basketry in all aspects of Native life, as well as the process of making them.”
Elaborate themed basket displays were planned for seven spaces throughout the Museum, plus live basketry plants in the courtyard and even video screenings. Weavers gave in-person presentations, and other cultural and educational events were planned to accompany the exhibit throughout the summer. “It was a huge undertaking to coordinate efforts by Exhibits, Facilities, and Education Department staff to achieve the vision,” Timbrook remembers. “In the process, I was getting more and more stressed out. I found myself whispering ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this!’”
“Just when I felt on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Adelina—who was recognized as a Chumash spiritual leader—came by with Cultural Programs Coordinator Kathy Conti to see how things were going. I confessed that it was all just too hard, I didn’t know how I could go on. They took me out to sit by the creek. Adelina softly and patiently prayed over me for a long time. Her words calmed me down and helped to restore my confidence. After a while we went back to walk through the halls and she blessed all the baskets that had been set out for display.”
Alva-Padilla's intervention marked a turning point for Timbrook and the epic exhibit. After she applied her steadying influence, everything went more smoothly. The exhibit was a great success, and the programs were all well-attended and well-received. Later Timbrook learned it was one of the largest basket exhibits ever, in any museum anywhere. “Strands of Life remains one of my proudest accomplishments in my 50 years with the Museum, and I am deeply grateful to Adelina for helping it to become reality.”
Read more about the remarkable life and spirit of Adelina Alva-Padilla in her memorial by Kathleen Conti, published by the Santa Barbara Independent.
Top photo: Alva-Padilla on Santa Rosa Island in 2009. Photo by Kathleen Conti