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 geometric 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 ritual 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.
Pueblo Indian Dances
Ceremonial dances, which are central to the religion, spirituality, and community ties of the Pueblo peoples, are among the most important subjects of Awa Tsireh’s paintings. Many ritual events are held to unify families and to ensure agricultural success, and are tied to the seasons of the year. Awa Tsireh depicted primarily the dances of his own San Ildefonso Pueblo in New Mexico, but unlike most of his peers, he also painted rituals held at our Pueblos. Many of the dances are open to the public, but others are reserved only for members of the village. Awa Tsireh was careful to guard the secret rituals from outside eyes.
Acoma War Dancer
- ca. 1920-1925
- Not on view
- sheet: 10 3⁄4 x 7 1⁄8 in. (27.4 x 18.1 cm)
- Credit Line
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Corbin-Henderson Collection, gift of Alice H. Rossin
- Mediums Description
- watercolor, ink, and pencil on paperboard
- Ethnic – Indian – Acoma
- Object Number
- Linked Open Data
- Linked Open Data URI