Santa Fe’s First Native Art Exhibit

The Museum of New Mexico’s exhibit Dance and Ceremonial Drawings opened on March 29, 1919. It was the first museum showing of Native American art in Santa Fe. The show featured the work of four students from the Santa Fe Indian School. Elizabeth DeHuff, the wife of John David DeHuff, the superintendent of the Santa Fe Indian School, organized the event. The four students included: Otis Polelonema and Fred Kabotie from the Hopi reservation in Shungopovi, Arizona. Awa Tsireh of San Ildlefonso Pueblo and Ma Pe Wi from Zia Pueblo were from New Mexico. All four of the student went on to become prominent artists.

Arizona Artists

Otis Polelonema returned to Arizona in 1925. When he started his family he continued to paint. During those early years of fatherhood Polelonema became a weaver. He also composed ceremonial dances from the ancient Hopi language of the Gray Flute Society. During his five decades as an artist the Heard Museum featured thirteen exhibits of his work. Polelonema died during the Solstice Ceremony at Shungpovi in 1981.

Fred Kabotie also returned to Shungopovi. In 1930 he taught painting at the Hopi High School at Oraibi while raising his family. In addition to the 500 paintings he created during his lifetime, Kabotie helped develop a style of jewelry unique to the Hopi people. The Museum of Modern Art in New York featured his art. In 1945 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. That award became the first of many that he received throughout his lifetime. Kabotie died in Arizona in 1986.

Artists from New Mexico

Awa Tsireh (Alfonso Roybal) was the brother in-law of Maria Martinez, the world renowned potter. The self-taught painter and muralist conveyed his native roots through symbolism and realism. Tsireh’s artwork is on permanent display in many museums, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He died in 1955 at San Ildelfonso Pueblo.

Ma Pe Wi (Velino Shije Herrera) came from Zia Pueblo. His work exhibited widely throughout the U.S. and Europe. Much of his abstract work is based on sacred Pueblo symbolism. Ma Pe Wi’s artistic choice led to his ostracism at Zia Pueblo. He also allowed the state of New Mexico to use his design of the Zia symbol for the state flag in 1920, which caused a public outcry from the pueblo. For the past one hundred years Zia Pueblo has sought compensation for the use of their Zia symbol to no avail. Ma Pe Wi died in Santa Fe in 1973.

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