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Hopi Snake Dancer

ca. 1917-1925 Awa Tsireh Born: San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico Died: San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico watercolor and pencil on paperboard sheet: 10 7/8 x 7 1/8 in. (27.5 x 18.1 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Corbin-Henderson Collection, gift of Alice H. Rossin 1979.144.20 Not currently on view

Exhibition Label

The paintings of Awa Tsireh (1898-1955), who was also known by his Spanish name, Alfonso Roybal, represent an encounter between the art traditions of native Pueblo peoples in the southwestern United States and the American modernist art style begun in New York in the early twentieth century. The son of distinguished potters, Awa Tsireh translated geometic pottery designs into stylized watercolors that feature the ceremonial dancers and practices of Pueblo communities. But Awa Tsireh's work is more than an amalgam of traditional and modernist design. At a time when the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs attempted to restrict Pueblo cultural and religious practices, the watercolors of Awa Tsireh and other Pueblo artists helped to affirm the importance of ceremonial dance and tirual to cultural survival.

Awa Tsireh's paintings quickly found an audience among the artists, writers, and archaeologists who descended on Santa Fe in great numbers in the late 1910s and 1920s. Painter John Sloan and poet Alice Corbin Henderson took a particular interest and arranged for his watercolors to be exhibited in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere. Henderson shared with the young Pueblo painter books on European and American modernism and Japanese woodblock prints, as well as South Asian miniatures and ancient Egyptian art that provided soure material for his stylized paintings. In this way, he redefined contemporary Pueblo art and created a new, pan-Pueblo style.

The paintings in this exhibition were donated to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1979 by the Hendersons' daughter, Alice H. Rossin.

Gallery Label

The Hopi of northeastern Arizona are the only community to perform the Snake Dance. It is one of the most widely known ceremonies of the Pueblo peoples because during one part of the dance, each performer carries a live snake in his mouth. The snake is seen as a messenger to the underworld who can help assure abundant water and rainfall for crops. Dancers wear red kilts painted with a black zigzag pattern that represents the snake; duck footprint patterns on the snake symbolize water. Awa Tsireh was one of the few artists to depict dances from Pueblos other than his own.


Animal - reptile - snake

Ceremony - dance - Snake Dance

Dress - ceremonial - Indian dress

Ethnic - Indian - Hopi

Figure male - full length


paint - watercolor



About Awa Tsireh

Born: San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico Died: San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico

More works in the collection by
Awa Tsireh