The American Southwest fascinates me. Having spent my whole life in the Midwest, the topography, climate and culture of the Southwest is like traveling to another planet. Add to that, the perceived glamour and drama of the Wild West and I find it a fountain of curiosities. Of course over 300 days of sun is attractive too. Occasionally though, Phoenix is so hot it is nice to explore indoors. The Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ is just the ticket.
American Indian Art
Heard Museum has created a perfect balance of historical and contemporary information on the indigenous peoples of the Greater Southwest.
The mission of the Heard Museum is to be the world’s preeminent museum for the presentation, interpretation and advancement of American Indian art, emphasizing its intersection with broader artistic and cultural themes.
In their mission statement, Heard Museum declare themselves an Art Museum. But it was so much more. The arts and crafts of indigenous peoples portrays their history, culture, beliefs, lifestyles, and relationships with the environment. I loved the blend of ancient examples and current artisan’s interpretations.
Art/History/Culture at Heard Museum
All that can be learned about the first peoples from the collections of textiles, ceramics, jewelry and baskets is unbelievable. For instance, the ceramics collection teaches of Southwestern tribe’s history dating from prehistoric to present day. The Navajo textiles completely sparked my passion. They told the tales of the tribe’s gods, sacred lands, and regional history. The colors, layouts and geometric designs all communicate secrets of the artist, the time period, and the invading cultures. Another interesting collection is the Hopi katsina dolls. They have over 1,200 dolls donated from the Senator Harry Goldwater Estate. The history of the tribes of the Greater Southwest, California, Great Basin and Northwest takes shape as you wander the museum.
I could spend days studying these textiles and the stories written in their fibers.
Contemporary American Indian Art
The contemporary art collections create a poignant counterpoint to the historic artifacts of the first peoples. Each artist has taken their interpretation and given their unique addition to the American Indian culture. The juxtaposition of ancient and modern art lovingly expressed at the Heard museum.
Contemporary Glass Art piece.
The official definition of “museum” refers to collecting, curating and displaying valuable objects. A building full of objects can be educational, but the truly great museums magnify their educational outreach with organized programming. Heard Museum embraces their education role. They offer extensive programming for classroom teachers. There are traveling exhibits for any interested organization, and a digital library. Most importantly the museum offers outreach opportunities to connect with the Arizona Indian communities.
Beyond the Gallery
Heard Museum believes that art, in all forms, communicates and interprets the American Indian experience. Some of the upcoming events give evidence of this philosophy.
Heard Museum hosts the annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest every February.
The art of hoop dance honors the cultural traditions from multiple Indigenous communities that first employed hoop dance as a healing ceremony. Today, hoop dance is shared as an artistic expression to celebrate, share and honor Indigenous traditions throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Cheyenne Randall, aka Indiangiver, is a mixed media artist working in digital photography, Photoshop, paint, and wheat paste installation. He is renowned for his photos of iconic figures with Photoshopped tattoos. He also works in the Mural medium of wheat paste, leaving his images on random structures all over the West.
If you are visiting Phoenix or live in the region Go Learn Things at the Heard Museum!
Phoenix has several great museums that I hope to visit and report on in the near future.
See the Travel Themes: Museums page for more Museum Travel information.
Go! Learn More about Phoenix Area Museums