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Faces of the Ancient Americas

August 10, 2012 Through July 7, 2013

In the Gump Family Gallery


Vessel with anthropomorphic being, 325–440 CE

Peruvian; Nasca
Earthenware with polychrome pigments

Maker Unknown (Peruvian), Nasca Vessel with anthropomorphic being


Double spout and bridge vessel, 900-1400 CE

Maker Unknown (Lambayeque)

Maker Unknown (Lambayeque), Double spout and bridge vessel

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Installation view

West Mexican Figurines
250 BCE-250 CE

Mexican ceramics

To 16th-century European observers, artifacts of indigenous Mesoamerican and South American peoples possessed a scintillating foreignness that was simultaneously alluring and frightening. The perceived primitiveness of these objects persisted for centuries, with the first exhibitions of Ancient American art not appearing in the United States until the 1930s and ‘40s. On view in the Gump Family Gallery, Encounters: Faces of the Ancient Americas features 27 works of art drawn from the Museum’s sizeable holdings—a rare collegiate collection that matches the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s in longevity. Disentangled from lingering biases and misconceptions, these objects represent the sophistication and technological achievements of cultures that flourished from the 5th century BCE until European contact after 1492.

The ceramics on view in this exhibition are dominated by faces—images of people from the West Mexican grasslands, the Yucatán Peninsula, and the arid coastal plains along the base of the Andes—constructing a sense of their unique cultural identities. Each face represents a member of an individual society with independent religious systems and civic structures, ranging from the extensive cities of the Maya to the small chiefdoms of the Nasca. Although distinctive and diverse, the ceramics of these cultures reveal a similar reliance on the land and a devotion to preserving the human form in clay. Examining images of men and women, shamans and deities, and flora and fauna, Encounters offers a window into the lives and beliefs of the ancient Americas, while highlighting some rarely exhibited gems of the MHCAM collection.

Curated by Rachel G. Beaupre, Assistant Curator