The entire eastern seaboard of the U. S. was home to a
large group of complex, related cultures who lived in large cities and
built immense earthworks still visible in the landscape today. They
left behind art in all mediums, including stone sculpture, incised and
painted pottery, and refined personal ornaments made of ceramic, metal,
Painted pottery is a highlight of the arts of ancient
civilizations of the American Southwest. These people created masterpieces
of clay, such as sophisticated pots, and most notably their own homes
in the pueblo cities whose ruins can be seen today. Artists of the Mogollon,
Hohokam, and Anasazi all created distinctive ceramics remarkable in
their use of imaginative decorative, symbolic, and representational
designs. These complex images were painted directly on each vessel,
freehand, without any preliminary drawing. They represent a number of
themes in ancient American life, showing animals and people undertaking
both everyday and ceremonial activities. Abstract depictions of rain,
clouds, and thunderstorms are striking.
was of utmost importance in this dry, desert land. This beautiful Socorro-style
pitcher from what is now Arizona, painted in striking black on white,
shows symbolic three-step cloud forms and zigzag lines representing
lightning all around its middle. Generously donated by The Regis Foundation,
the vessel is a classic example of skill and inventiveness. Direct descendants
of these talented and most likely female artists live in the area today,
creating masterpieces just as their forebears did.
Some of the most varied and accomplished art in all of
the Americas comes from the civilizations of ancient Mexico. The Institute
is fortunate to have exceptional artworks from a majority of these cultures,
and some classic examples are featured in the Sacred Symbols
exhibition. The first comes from the Olmec, who flourished in central
Mexico from 1200300 B.C. Olmec artisans built remarkable stone
cities, and are justifiably famous for their sculpture. The small but
stately statue in this exhibition is a gift from Alfred Lawrence.
In contrast to the regal stillness of the Olmec aesthetic,
art from the neighboring cultures of west Mexico is known for its liveliness.
Some of the best examples of this style are the lifelike dogs sculpted
by the Colima, renowned for their high-quality ceramics. Dr. and Mrs.
John R. Kennedy generously donated a charming canine, which looks ready
to jump up and play. Beyond mere pets, dogs were associated with the
god of thunder and lightning and were believed to be guides to the spirit
world. Owing to their spiritual power, dogs were also ceremonially eaten
in ritual contexts.