Heard Museum: A Cultural Highlight in Phoenix

Highlights of the Heard Museum

The first time I visited the Heard Museum several years ago was upon the enthusiastic recommendation of my Aunt Vi while visiting her in Phoenix. From the time she was a young girl, Aunt Vi had a fascination with American Indian culture that stemmed from her father’s, my grandfather’s, interest and respect for the culture. After moving to Phoenix in the mid-1990s, she quickly made a decision to volunteer at the Heard Museum so she could immerse herself in the amazing American Indian art and hand-crafted treasures of the museum while working in the gift shop and meeting visitors from all over the world. It is an incredible place to learn about and enjoy American Indian culture, art, and history.

Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona -- Photo courtesy of Visit Phoenix

Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona — Photo courtesy of Visit Phoenix

Since its opening in 1929, the Heard Museum has been showcasing unique and diverse collections of American Indian art and artifacts and currently has 40,000 objects in its 12 galleries. In addition to its ongoing collections, the museum also features special events (such as the popular Hoop Dance and Indian Fair and Market), educational programs, and changing exhibits.

Home: Native People of the Southwest (ongoing)

A section of the Art Fence, blown glass and ceramics by Tony Jojola and Rosemary Lonewolfat the Heard Museum

A section of the “Art Fence” blown by Tony Jojola and Rosemary Lonewolf at the Heard Museum

At the entrance to the museum’s signature gallery Home: Native People of the Southwest, is the 30-foot Art Fence, a work of colorful blown glass by Tony Jojola and ceramics by Rosemary Lonewolf in their collaboration named Indigenous Evolution. It is a beautiful and intriguing opening to the treasures in the gallery beyond that showcase the traditions and culture of the Native people of past and present in their Southwest USA home. Displays include a full-sized Navajo hogan, jewelry, pottery, baskets, gorgeous textiles, beadwork, and more cultural objects.

Cultural items of everyday life of the American Indians of the Southwest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizaon

Cultural items of everyday life of the American Indians of the Southwest at the Heard Museum

Extraordinary among the displays are over 500 Katsina (the Hopi word for “Kachina”) dolls, the culturally-important carved figures representing Katsina spirit messengers with a wide range of styles and characteristics. The dolls are given to young girls as gifts symbolizing prayers for good health, growth, and fertility.

Sculptures (ongoing)

in the courtyards, at the museum entrance, and throughout other outdoor areas of the museum there are numerous sculptures capturing the perspectives of American Indian artists. I really liked the bronze sculpture below by Doug Hyde, Intertribal Greeting, outside the main entrance to the museum.

“Intertribal Greeting” by Doug Hyde at the Heard Museum — Photo by Jill Richards Photography courtesy of Visit Phoenix

I enjoyed a stroll in the Nichols Sculpture Garden where the stainless steel sculpture shown below by Bob Haozous, Woman in Love, caught my attention.

"Woman in Love", a stainless-steel sculpture by Bob Haozous,at the Heard Museum

“Woman in Love” by Bob Haozous at the Heard Museum

Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience (ongoing)

January 2021 update:  Since my visit, this exhibit has been updated and the name has been changed to “Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories”

A very thought-provoking and eye-opening exhibit is Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience. It presents the stories and memorabilia of four generations of American Indians who were forced by the federal government to attend boarding schools to be assimilated into mainstream society. The words of Chancellor Lipincott of University of Kansas at the dedication of the Haskell school on September 17, 1884 emphasize the philosophy of the United States government of the time:

“When one Indian boy or girl leaves this school with an education, the “Indian Problem” will forever be solved for him and his children.”

For the American Indians it was a sad mandate aimed at destroying their culture.

Edward Jacobson Gallery

Further perspectives about the boarding school period and displacement of Native people is found in the bold and disturbing scenes in Fear of a Red Planet, paintings by Steven Yazzie, filling three walls of the of the Edward Jacobson Gallery (upstairs). Yazzie’s Black White Blue Yellow (BWBY), a video and sound installation exploring four sacred mountains of the Diné/Navajo people is downstairs in the Jacobson Gallery through through October 15, 2017.

"Fear of a Red Planet", paintings by Steven Yazzie in the Edward Jacobson Gallery of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

“Fear of a Red Planet”, paintings by Steven Yazzie in the Edward Jacobson Gallery of the Heard Museum

Special exhibitions

The Heard Museum is renowned for the caliber of its ongoing and major changing exhibitions.  We were fortunate to see the special exhibition presenting the art of famed 20th-century Mexican artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and exploring the couple’s relationship and lives. (The exhibit ran through September 4th, 2017). Their art, such as Frida’s Self Portrait With Monkeys (1943) and Diego’s Calla Lily Vendors (1943) were among the 33 paintings and drawings by the couple that were on exhibit. But I was particularly taken with the photographs of Frida, Diego, and their contemporaries that included their time spent in the United States giving a compelling look into their lives. Another highlight of this exhibit for me was the display of several mannequins dressed in colorful dresses, skirts, blouses, and shawls inspired by Frida’s style.

The museum shop

The museum shop carries a remarkable selection of top-quality, hand-crafted items created by American Indian artists and craftspeople. Katsina dolls, rugs and other textiles, clothing, woven baskets, exquisite jewelry and art, and other high-quality items made by American Indian artists, are available in the shop.

Aunt Vi fondly remembers the artists bringing their beautiful creations to the museum for consideration of purchase for the shop. She remembers especially a man who entered the shop with a simple brown paper bag. Inside was gorgeous hand-made jewelry of his own creation.

The museum should be a must-see for those visiting the Phoenix area, especially if they have interest in American Indian culture and/or art.

Dining tip: With so much to see at the museum, it’s nice to have coffee and dining options right at the museum, too. The Courtyard Cafe, which is open to the public and doesn’t require museum admission, has a menu of sandwiches, salads, and desserts. The Coffee Cantina offers coffee, other beverages, and snacks.

Neighborhood tip: Just off Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix, the Heard Museum is located in one of Phoenix’s 35 historic districts, the Alvarado. If you have a chance to stroll or drive through the neighborhood, you’ll see many large, prominent homes of various architectural styles including Spanish, Tudor, Georgian, and American Colonial on its tree-lined streets.


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18 thoughts on “Heard Museum: A Cultural Highlight in Phoenix

  1. Donna Janke

    It’s been years since I visited the Heard Museum. I’ll have to make it a bigger priority the next time I’m in the Phoenix area. Nice tip about the Alvarado district. I’d like walking through that.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      We passed through the Alvarado district because we made a wrong turn before getting to the museum. It was such a nice surprise. I’d like to tour the other historic districts in Phoenix, too.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      LOL — yes, you “heard” right! Definitely a top place to visit in Phoenix. I looking forward to return visits myself.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I think it’s so cool that more and more high-quality museums have nice cafes and restaurants for visitors. Makes for an overall great experience.

  2. Deborah bishop

    Last year I visited heard museum.It’s an interesting and nice place. There are many interesting things to see.It’s a place to learn and enjoy American Indian culture, art, and history.The painting and photography that displayed there are really amazing.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Amazing is certainly the right word to describe many of the exhibits. A person can really get an education about the experiences and lives of the Native Peoples.

  3. Rachel Heller

    What I especially like about the Heard Museum, judging from this post, is that it’s not just about the Native American past, full of artifacts in cases, as if Native Americans and their culture don’t exist anymore. The modern art is evidence of a living, breathing and dynamic culture.

  4. Cindy

    You picked a great time to visit the Heard – I think the latest re-do of the galleries has made the museum and galleries the best they have ever been. The temporary exhibits tend to be fabulous, so don’t wait too long before you return!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      You’ve been there! The temporary exhibits will be great reasons to continue returning to the museum. I also want to keep checking out the items in the shop, too.

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