I feel bad that I’ve been going to Phoenix about twice a year for the past 30 years and never went to the Heard Museum. Because I learned, on my most recent trip, that if you only have time to go to one museum in Phoenix, you really need to make it to the Heard.
The Heard Museum of Native American arts and heritage was founded in 1929 by Dwight and Maie Heard. Dwight was a Massachusetts native who moved to Arizona for his heath. Arizona not only agreed with his health, but with his wallet – he went into real estate, publishing, cattle ranching and farming and became one of the largest and wealthiest landowners in the Phoenix area.
Between Massachusetts and Arizona, Dwight made a stop in Chicago. He worked for the hardware retailer Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett and Company (which would become True Value Hardware) just long enough to marry the boss’ daughter, Maie Bartlett. Once they got to Phoenix, Dwight and Maie became serious collectors of Native American art and when their collection got too large for their house, they built a museum. Dwight died just a few months before the Heard opened, but Maie served as their director and curator for 20 years.
Though technically not a history museum, clearly the arts of any culture are firmly woven with its history and heritage. And while the all of the art was dazzling, my favorites (true to form) were the ones with some historical context and content.
The textile piece above is “The Long Walk” by Navajo artist Jane Wyden. It portrays the forced march of Navajos from Arizona to imprisonment on a reservation in New Mexico in 1863-1864. Ninety-five hundred Navajos were relocated, with 2000 dying on the march or while imprisoned. While the people in Wyden’s piece are Navajo, the Apache also were relocated by the Long March.
Sorry about the quality of the pictures. Everything was under glass, and while pictures were encouraged, flash was not allowed. So given my shaky photography abilities and point-and-click camera, the interior photos are a little blurry.
Another less than stellar moment in US history was the creation of “Indian Schools” in the late 19th and early 20s centuries. They were boarding schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs with the goal of assimilating Native American children into the American way. Children were not allowed to speak their native language, or wear native clothing or hair styles. The tunic above is a band uniform. Clearly, the “no native clothes” didn’t mean that the school couldn’t dress the band in Indian costumes for the entertainment of the dignitaries and general community. The narrative next to the display says, “A natural outgrowth of the military structure of the early schools…the Indian school bands were very popular…. Requests for the Indian band to march in parades … and at official visits steadily increased….”
WWI saw the start of Native American code talking: the use of Native Americans to exchange messages in their native language — languages that few outside of their own people understood. Code talkers represented many native nations, but the most famous of the code talkers were the Navajo (those are two Navajo code talkers raising the flag in the wooden sculpture above) who joined the Marines during WWII.
Of course, there’s lots of art at the Heard that don’t tell a historic story. That’s a glass piece, above, that I happened to love. It represents a fence.
The museum has a café with seating in a courtyard (above) , a bookshop, and one of the best museum stores around. While they’re in downtown Phoenix, its no problem getting there and they have lots of parking. That always surprises me about other cities. I guess I’m used to downtown DC, where parking is always a hassle.