About the Art

The Mimbres, an ancient Native American people, are part of the cultural history of the American Southwest. They lived in the desert valleys of southwestern New Mexico along small rivers flowing from the surrounding mountains and in parts of Arizona and northern Mexico. For a relatively short period—from A.D. 850 to 1150—they made astonishingly beautiful pottery, including black-on-white bowls on which they drew the world around them as they conceived it. They drew each other hunting, gambling, dancing, and swimming. They drew animals, mythical creatures, abstractions of mountains, clouds, and plants as they saw, remembered, and imagined them. Each pot provides a glimpse into the logical structure of their world.

The subject matter of Mimbres paintings also includes common, seemingly nonrepresentational patterns, often referred to as geometric. Yet many of these seem to be abstract pictures of clouds, lightning, rain—the lifeblood of the farmers of the arid Southwest—and are similar to abstractions sometimes construed as prayers when painted on pottery by modern Pueblo people.

Around A.D. 1150, the Mimbres people deserted their villages, taking all of the household goods they could carry to an unknown destination. Archaeologists have found no evidence of disease, famine, or warfare that might have prompted emigration on such a large scale. The pots and artifacts left behind allow us to share moments of an ancient world that might have otherwise been lost.