The Heard Museum in Phoenix: Colorful, Illuminating and Historical

heard museum phoenix

Yesterday I went to the Heard Museum, a museum dedicated to the myriad cultures and art of Native Americans of the Southwest.  I have to admit that my knowledge of this diverse and large group of people is narrow and I was eager to explore the museum and take it all in.  Open since 1929 and located right downtown, the Heard is not only a history lesson but it’s a salute and homage to Native Americans.  It also gives Indian artists a place to display their work.  We happened to be there during an outdoors Spanish Market, a large festival displaying work from more than 75 Hispanic artists from Arizona, New Mexico and South America which complimented our experience.

The museum features ten spacious exhibit galleries with more than 35,000 artifacts, as well as lovely outdoor courtyards that feature traditional and contemporary Native American art.  The experience is both colorful and illuminating, revealing a history that many of us Americans should know more about and understand. The museum is clearly committed to showing the history of Native cultures, celebrating but also depicting painful periods in our history.

As I walked from gallery to gallery, I was mesmerized by tales of the Native people of the past and present.  Their signature exhibit HOME: Native People in the Southwest contains cultural objects and showcases how they live. They have an actual Navajo hogan, the Pueblo horno and 400 katsina dolls on display.

Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience nearly had me in tears.  It examines Indian boarding schools that were formed in the late 1800s.  Children were forcibly removed from their homes and forced to adopt the white man’s language and cultural identity. Tales of actual Native Americans who lived through this are told overhead via speakers and are still ringing in my ears.  There is an actual chair used to strap them down and chop off their hair, with long strands all over the floor.  Many of these children returned to their reservations and were totally transformed so they became teachers or entered helping professions to help their community.  This is both a powerful and emotional exhibit.

Temporary exhibits include:

Native words: Native warriors and Navajo Code Talkers, Photographs by Kenji Kawano (through March 3rd, 2013)

Native American Bolo Ties: Vintage and Contemporary Artistry (through November 4th)

Retha Walden Gambaro: Attitudes of Prayer (through December 31st, 2013)

Beyond Geronimo: The Apache Experience (through January 13th, 2013)

Namigha Family: Landscape, Form and Light (through January 27th, 2013)

Elegance from Earth: Hopi Pottery (through August 25th, 2013)

The Heard is very child-friendly.  Any child will be smitten with the artifacts, dolls, clothes and art created by Native Americans.  They have several exhibits children for children to engage in: Every Picture Tells a Storywhich tells how local wildlife and vegetation inspire Native artists. From making a dragonfly or butterfly to exploring the Arctic and creating your own bandolier bag, this exhibition journeys to seven regions and shows how American Indian artists reflect their environments in their artwork.  We Are! Arizona’s First People celebrates Arizona’s 21 federally recognized tribal communities that share the importance of land and family as well as the preservation of languages and traditions in an interactive gallery. They offer hands-on activities for kids of all ages.

The Heard was relocated to its current location in 2007.  It’s located at 2301 North Central Avenue, Tel: 602-252-8840.  Admission is as follows: $18 adults; $13.50 seniors; $7.50 students; $7.50 children ages 6-12; free for children under 6 and Heard Museum members.  The museum offers private tours at noon, 2 and 3pm.

Disclosure: I was provided complimentary admission to facilitate this review but all opinions are my own.

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