Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection

By Matthew H. Robb and Jill D’Alessandro

Spanning nearly one thousand years of artistic creativity, Lines on the Horizon celebrates a gift that transforms the presentation of Native American art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The Weisel Family Collection, developed by Thomas Weisel over the course of 30 years, is wide ranging, with a focus on the indigenous arts of the American Southwest, from ancient ceramics to basketry, pottery, and Navajo textiles from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Art from the Pacific Northwest and the first Plains ledger drawings to enter the Museums’ holdings are also included, further demonstrating the ingenuity and diversity of Native Americans’ artistic traditions.

The concept of the line links these disparate artworks: from carefully painted brushstrokes to meticulously woven bands of color, lines—often abstract, but at times suggestive of the horizon or landscape—are a key visual element in many of the featured artworks. The title Lines on the Horizon also alludes to the lines of ancestry that connect makers with the traditions in which they worked.

Using the collection’s fine examples of black-on-white ceramics from the Mimbres Valley as a springboard, Matthew H. Robb, in his introductory essay, explores questions of attribution in the art of the ancient Americas, focusing on the arts of the Moche, Maya, and Mimbres cultures. Section introductions by Robb and by Jill D’Alessandro explain how the hands of individual makers might be seen to emerge from the conventions of communal practice.


Matthew H. Robb is curator of the arts of the Americas at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. A specialist in the art and archaeology of Mesoamerica, he has particular expertise in the history and architecture of Teotihuacan and has lectured and written on a broad range of topics in the indigenous arts of the New World.

Jill D’Alessandro, curator of the Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Department of Textile Arts, joined the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in 2002. Since that time, D’Alessandro has curated numerous exhibitions on a diverse variety of subjects, ranging from ethnographic textile traditions to 20th-century fashion design.

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