Zuni Shalako Figure

Media - 1979.144.19 - SAAM-1979.144.19_2 - 117197
Copied Awa Tsireh, Zuni Shalako Figure, ca. 1925-1930, watercolor, ink, and pencil on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Corbin-Henderson Collection, gift of Alice H. Rossin, 1979.144.19

Artwork Details

Zuni Shalako Figure
ca. 1925-1930
Not on view
sheet: 15 186 12 in. (38.316.5 cm)
Credit Line
Corbin-Henderson Collection, gift of Alice H. Rossin
Mediums Description
watercolor, ink, and pencil on paperboard
  • Indian — Zuni
  • Dress — Indian dress
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 Shalako ceremony, which is performed in December, is one of the most important events in the Zuni religious calendar. Six men wear wooden frames ten feet tall covered with dance kilts and topped with masks of the face of Shalako, a deity or diving being. They dance throughout the night, embodying the spirits and visiting specific houses in the Zuni Pueblo. The next day a ritual race is performed during which offering sticks are planted in the ground to bring general health and fertility to the village, its crops, and livestock.