Bird with Red Snake

Media - 1979.144.38 - SAAM-1979.144.38_2 - 117394
Copied Awa Tsireh, Bird with Red Snake, ca. 1920-1925, watercolor, ink and pencil on paperboard, sheet: 11 147 14 in. (28.618.5 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Corbin-Henderson Collection, gift of Alice H. Rossin, 1979.144.38

Artwork Details

Bird with Red Snake
ca. 1920-1925
Not on view
sheet: 11 147 14 in. (28.618.5 cm)
back upper left in pencil: No. 9. back upper left in pencil: Conkuy (erased)
Credit Line
Corbin-Henderson Collection, gift of Alice H. Rossin
Mediums Description
watercolor, ink and pencil on paperboard
  • Animal
  • Animal — bird
  • Animal — reptile — snake
Object Number

Artwork Description

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
In 1922, Awa Tsireh began to create large brightly colored fantastical animals using flatly applied, opaque pigments isolated by black contour lines. He started using ink dyes rather than paint to achieve the saturated color he wanted. Ink became his favorite medium, and he came to prefer colored drawings over paintings. He adopted a decorative, abstracted model that became a major source for a new widespread pan-Pueblo style of the late 1920s and 1930s.