10 unmissable pieces of art at the Heard Museum in Phoenix

The Heard Museum — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

What is seen at the Heard? A permanent collection of thousands of incredible art and artifacts about or created by American Indians of the Southwest, as well as visiting exhibitions on wider Native American culture, both ancient and modern. The astonishing Indigenous peoples’ journey is set in a beautiful Spanish mission-styled building wrapped around an idyllic courtyard in downtown Phoenix’s arts district. Free parking is available on museum grounds.

Navajo creation story

Navajo artist Rosie Yellowhair's "Emergence Story"Navajo artist Rosie Yellowhair’s “Emergence Story” — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

Navajo artist Rosie Yellowhair’s Emergence Story is a 2004 sand painting telling the Navajo creation story, also known as the Emergence Story. Yellowhair’s fascinating depiction tells of the struggle of consciousness via parables set in five worlds. It is a veritable documentation of the struggle of human evolution, still ongoing.

Inlaid silver box

A silver box with inlaid polished stoneA silver box with inlaid polished stone — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

This beautiful silver box is a collaboration between John Hoxie, the Navajo fine arts silversmith, and the late Lambert Homer Jr., the son and grandson of noted Zuni lapidary artists. An extensive collection of antique and contemporary Navajo silver jewelry and also decorative utilitarian items like silver horse bridles is also on display at the Heard.

Katsina dolls

The Heard Museum's collection of katsina dollsThe Heard Museum’s collection of katsina dolls — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

If the up-close detail of these phantom-like figures carved from cottonwood roots by Hopi artists and artisans weren’t entrancing enough, the sheer volume of katsina dolls at the Heard, both antique and more modern – each unique – is astounding.


Diné artist Steven Yazzie's "Gazer"Diné artist Steven Yazzie’s “Gazer” — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

Contemporary Diné artist Steven Yazzie’s “Gazer” is seemingly a traditional depictive work of oil on canvas that is also modernist and very much of its time – it was created in 2014 and has a photo realism about it. Yet, there is a spiritual undertow as the comfortable civilized coyote gazes on the shadowy figure of her wild counterpart.

Beaded cape necklace

Mojave beaded cape necklaceMojave beaded cape necklace — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

The Mojave began making and wearing such fantastic glass beaded collars as this one in the late 1800s. Beadwork was a result of trading with Europeans. Traditional insignia and design, such as this one inspired by the turtle’s shell, were incorporated as a new, intricately detailed Native American art form developed.


The Heard Museum has many examples of exquisite basketryThe Heard Museum has many examples of exquisite basketry — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

Basketry is one of the oldest art forms in the Southwest. Baskets were necessary for everyday life, both for storing items – from food to clothing – and for carrying them too. Strong baskets were needed, creating a craft that was mostly traditionally taken up by women. Curiously, baskets went beyond being plain everyday household items, and traditional designs inspired by the natural world – such as these insects – were incorporated. Basketry became an art, which continues today. Some of the oldest Native American baskets found were created by the Southwestern nations.

‘Jeved Makai Creates the Milky Way’

Dwayne Manuel's "Jeved Makai Creates the Milky Way"Dwayne Manuel’s “Jeved Makai Creates the Milky Way” — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

The O’odham people have lived in the Sonoran Desert since around 300 B.C. and count Phoenix as part of their ancestral homeland, which stretches down into Mexico. This 2022 acrylic-on-canvas painting by Dwayne Manuel, an Onk Akimel O’odham descendant, shows Jeved Makai creating the Milky Way with his staff, a legend that is part of the O’odham creation story, but wouldn’t look out of place in the Marvel universe.

‘Grand Procession’: Contemporary Plains Indian Dolls from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection

A feature piece in the 'Grand Procession' exhibitA feature piece in the ‘Grand Procession’ exhibit — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

This collection of vibrant, intricately beaded figurines, or soft sculptures, created by Jamie Okuma (Luiseño and Shoshone-Bannock), Rhonda Holy Bear (Cheyenne River Sioux and Lakota) and three generations of Growing Thunder family members – Joyce Growing Thunder, Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty and Jessa Rae Growing Thunder (Assiniboine and Sioux) – honors Indigenous peoples from the Great Plains and Great Basin regions who lived in those areas during the late 19th century.

‘Away From Home’

The Heard's "Away From Home" exhibit shows the innocent victims of cultural genocideThe Heard’s “Away From Home” exhibit shows the innocent victims of cultural genocide — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

In occupying these lands, European colonization moved from outright genocidal massacres to an atrocious attempt to eradicate Indigenous culture by forcibly removing children from their parents and tribal lands to re-educate them in so-called boarding schools, set up to break their spirit and even break family and tribal bonds. The Heard does not shy away from this terrible atrocity and urges visitors to not look away from this exhibit documenting an appalling period of United States history.

The building and courtyard

The Heard Museum's beautiful interior courtyardThe Heard Museum’s beautiful interior courtyard — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

The Heard’s architecture and design is notable and worth contemplating. Founded in 1929 by Dwight and Maie Heard, both passionate collectors of primarily American Indian artifacts and art, their namesake museum grew eight times the size of the original structure and now encompasses 130,000 square feet of galleries, classrooms and performance spaces surrounding a beautiful interior courtyard.

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