The Giant of the Black Mesa

Media - 1979.144.6 - SAAM-1979.144.6_2 - 117091
Copied Awa Tsireh, The Giant of the Black Mesa, ca. 1920-1930, watercolor and pencil on paper, sheet: 11 148 18 in. (28.620.5 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Corbin-Henderson Collection, gift of Alice H. Rossin, 1979.144.6

Artwork Details

The Giant of the Black Mesa
ca. 1920-1930
Not on view
sheet: 11 148 18 in. (28.620.5 cm)
Credit Line
Corbin-Henderson Collection, gift of Alice H. Rossin
Mediums Description
watercolor and pencil on paper
  • Indian
  • Figure male — full length
  • Mythology — other — American Indian
  • Object — weapon — whip
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
The Matachina Dance has Christian and Spanish origins. It is believed to have been taught to the Pueblo peoples by Franciscan missionaries. Unlike the more traditional Pueblo dances where performers move in long line formations, the Matachina dancers follow elaborately choreographed patterns. The attire is also distinctive. Each dancer wears a tall headdress with colorful scarves that stream down the back. Another scarf masks the lower half of the face, while black fringe, or fleco, hides the eyes.