Indigenous art of the Americas has been part of the museum collections since the time of the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894, and the holdings have grown substantially and steadily throughout the 20th century and beyond. The diverse pieces represent the artistic accomplishments of individuals separated by great distances of time and space. One of the strengths of the collection is a group of works made by artists from pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica. This includes the remarkable surprise bequest in 1976 by Harald J. Wagner of mural fragments from Teotihuacan. Since this bequest, most of the fragments were repatriated and a joint conservation project was undertaken with the Mexican government that was a main focus of the department for nearly a decade. Many of the fragments that remain in our collection can be viewed in our galleries.
Subsequent gifts of ancient Maya artworks and ceramics from West Mexico from Gail and J. Alec Merriam and the Lewis K. and Elizabeth M. Land Collection have continued to enhance the museum’s holdings into the 21st century.
Another area of strength in the collection is artworks by Native artists from western North America. In the mid-20th century, many Bay Area collectors donated Native American artworks, namely baskets from California and the Pacific Northwest. These holdings were greatly enhanced by a generous donation from the Thomas W. Weisel Family Collection, including historic and ancestral ceramics by Pueblo potters, textiles by Navajo (Diné) weavers, and carvings and regalia from the Pacific Northwest. Extraordinary examples of contemporary Pueblo pottery were donated to the museums by Paul E. & Barbara H. Weiss and another transformative gift came from the estate of Thomas G. Fowler, who collected nearly 400 works by Alaska Native and Canadian Inuit artists, past and present.
Selections from the Art of the Americas collections are on view in de Young Galleries 1 to 4.