The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Welcome Major Gifts of Native American Art from the Thomas W. Weisel Family

Apr 14, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO (March 31, 2014)—The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco announce a major gift from the Thomas W. Weisel Family that includes approximately 200 objects and a generous endowment that will reshape the Native American art collection at the de Young. The gift will enable a new presentation of the art of the Americas, including major pieces of monumental Northwest Coast art and the first Plains ledger drawings to enter the Museums’ permanent holdings.

“We at the Museums are so grateful to Mr. Weisel and his family for selecting our institution as the destination for a collection of such significance. It is a transformative gift of art, of an unparalleled depth and scope,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Additionally, the endowment will enhance our capacity to study these objects from a variety of perspectives and to develop educational and scholarly programs around the collection. We look forward to sharing these objects and the research they will generate with our visitors and with specialists in the field.”

The Thomas W. Weisel Family Collection is an extraordinary anthology of Native American art assembled over three decades by Mr. Weisel, a pioneer in the development of the tech industry in Silicon Valley and a noted collector of and advocate for Native American art. The carefully chosen artworks can substantiate the emerging scholarly theory that, through technical analysis, archival research and visual comparisons, it may be possible to recognize the hands of the individuals who created many of these works.

“I am very excited to partner with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and its world class museums at the Legion of Honor and the de Young,” said Thomas W. Weisel. “The strong artistic images drew me to this material but their historical context, as I learned, was equally compelling.”

The gift will be celebrated in Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection, on view at the de Young from May 3, 2014, through January 4, 2015. This exhibition features approximately 70 objects and textiles that represent the range of the collection. The exhibition spans nearly a thousand years of artistic production, from 11th century Mimbres ceramics to 19th century works by recognized artists such as the Hopi-Tewa potter Nampeyo and additional masterworks of Navajo weaving. Organized by culture and chronology, Lines on the Horizon explores important themes in Native American art including floral, animal and landscape motifs and symbolism, and examines the long history of changing regional styles throughout the American Southwest.

More than 50 objects in the gift were made by artists working in the Mimbres ceramic tradition practiced from roughly AD 1000 to 1150. Executed with elegance and encompassing combinations of figuration and abstraction, the Mimbres ceramics are a significant addition to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s permanent collection.

Matthew H. Robb, curator of the arts of the Americas at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, said, “The rich iconography and sophistication of ancient Southwestern ceramics are breathtaking. These objects have cultural, chronological and intellectual links with so many parts of the collection, especially art from ancient Mesoamerica.”

Also included in the Thomas W. Weisel Family Collection gift are two Navajo first-phase blankets (ca. 1820s‒1850s) and several classic period Navajo serapes. With fewer than 100 first-phase blankets in existence today, these outstanding textiles are exceptionally rare. Their bold colors and patterns complement the striking black-and-white ceramics from the Mimbres Valley.

Jill D’Alessandro, curator of costume and textile arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, said, “In the Weisel family’s astutely curated collection, the group of classic period Navajo weavings captures a period of remarkable creative output, a moment when a select group of master weavers excelled at their craft, collectively and individually pushed their tradition forward.”

The Fine Arts Museums now has the opportunity to offer a comprehensive survey of Native American art with a distinctly western focus, stretching from the Arctic Circle to the American Southwest. The Thomas W. Weisel Family Collection builds on other gifts of ancient and Native American art to the Museums – major works of Maya art from Alec and Gail Merriam; the Thomas G. Fowler Collection of Eskimo and Inuit art; donations of Southwest ceramics from the collection of Paul and Barbara Weiss; the art of ancient Mesoamerica from Lewis K. and Elizabeth M. Land and the de Young’s charter collection of California baskets.

The endowment that accompanies the gift will further enhance the de Young’s presentation of its permanent collection and supports the Museums’ mission to exhibit and study the indigenous arts of the Americas. It will sustain programming, collection publications, research visits from contemporary Native American artists and students and engagement with scholars.

Click here for more information about Lines on the Horizon.

Exhibition Organization
This exhibition is made possible by a gift of the Thomas W. Weisel Family to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Major support is provided by the Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Exhibitions.

Exhibition Catalogue
Spanning nearly 1,000 years of artistic creativity, Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection, a companion to the exhibition of the same title at the de Young, celebrates an important gift to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. It focuses on a selection of works that emphasize the Weisel Family Collection’s depth in indigenous arts of the American Southwest, from ancient ceramics to basketry, ceramics, and Navajo textiles from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Art from the Pacific Northwest and the first Plains ledger drawings to enter the Fine Arts Museums’ holdings are also explored. Published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Available in May 2014.

Visiting \ de Young
Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco. Open 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m. Tuesdays–Sundays; open select holidays; closed most Mondays.

Admission Tickets
General admission tickets required. Tickets range from $6‒$10; free first Tuesday of the month. Please visit for more information.

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition and became the Memorial Museum. Thirty years later, it was renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, a longtime champion of the museum. The present copper-clad, landmark building, designed by Herzog and de Meuron, opened in October 2005. It showcases the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries; art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international contemporary art.

The Legion of Honor was inspired by the French pavilion at San Francisco’s Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915, which was a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris. The museum opened in 1924 in the Beaux Arts–style building designed by George Applegarth on a bluff overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Its holdings span four thousand years and include European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.

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