New collection of Native American art on display

By From page B6 | May 23, 2014

de young blanketThe Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco announce a major gift from the Thomas W. Weisel Family that includes approximately 200 objects and a generous endowment that will reshape the Native American art collection at the de Young.

The gift will enable a new presentation of the art of the Americas, including major pieces of monumental Northwest Coast art and the first Plains Ledger drawings to enter the museums’ permanent holdings.

“We at the museums are so grateful to Mr. Weisel and his family for selecting our institution as the destination for a collection of such significance. It is a transformative gift of art, of an unparalleled depth and scope,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Additionally, the endowment will enhance our capacity to study these objects from a variety of perspectives and to develop educational and scholarly programs around the collection. We look forward to sharing these objects and the research they will generate with our visitors and with specialists in the field.”

The Thomas W. Weisel Family Collection is an extraordinary anthology of Native American art assembled over three decades by Weisel, a pioneer in the development of the tech industry in Silicon Valley and a noted collector of and advocate for Native American art. The carefully chosen artworks can substantiate the emerging scholarly theory that, through technical analysis, archival research and visual comparisons, it may be possible to recognize the hands of the individuals who created many of these works.

“I am very excited to partner with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and its world-class museums at the Legion of Honor and the de Young,” said Weisel. “The strong artistic images drew me to this material but their historical context, as I learned, was equally compelling.”

The gift will be celebrated in “Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection,” on view at the de Young through January 4, 2015.

This exhibition features approximately 70 objects and textiles that represent the range of the collection. The exhibition spans nearly a thousand years of artistic production, from 11th century Mimbres ceramics to 19th century works by recognized artists such as the Hopi-Tewa potter Nampeyo and additional masterworks of Navajo weaving.

Organized by culture and chronology, “Lines on the Horizon” explores important themes in Native American art including floral, animal and landscape motifs and symbolism and examines the long history of changing regional styles throughout the American southwest.

More than 50 objects in the gift were made by artists working in the Mimbres ceramic tradition practiced from roughly AD 1000 to 1150. Executed with elegance and encompassing combinations of figuration and abstraction, the Mimbres ceramics are a significant addition to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s permanent collection.

“The rich iconography and sophistication of ancient Southwestern ceramics are breathtaking. These objects have cultural, chronological and intellectual links with so many parts of the collection, especially art from ancient Mesoamerica,” said Matthew H. Robb, curator of the arts of the Americas at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Also included in the Thomas W. Weisel Family Collection gift are two Navajo first-phase blankets (ca. 1820s‒1850s) and several classic period Navajo serapes. With fewer than 100 first-phase blankets in existence today, these outstanding textiles are exceptionally rare. Their bold colors and patterns complement the striking black-and-white ceramics from the Mimbres Valley.

“In the Weisel family’s astutely curated collection, the group of classic period Navajo weavings captures a period of remarkable creative output, a moment when a select group of master weavers excelled at their craft, collectively and individually pushed their tradition forward,” said Jill D’Alessandro, curator of costume and textile arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The Fine Arts Museums now has the opportunity to offer a comprehensive survey of Native American art with a distinctly western focus, stretching from the Arctic Circle to the American Southwest. The Thomas W. Weisel Family Collection builds on other gifts of ancient and Native American art to the museums — major works of Maya art from Alec and Gail Merriam; the Thomas G. Fowler Collection of Eskimo and Inuit art; donations of Southwest ceramics from the collection of Paul and Barbara Weiss the; art of ancient Mesoamerica from Lewis K. and Elizabeth M. Land and the de Young’s charter collection of California baskets.

The endowment that accompanies the gift will further enhance the de Young’s presentation of its permanent collection and supports the museums’ mission to exhibit and study the indigenous arts of the Americas. It will sustain programming, collection publications, research visits from contemporary Native American artists and students and engagement with scholars.

For more information on Lines on the Horizon visit


Exhibition catalogue

Spanning nearly 1,000 years of artistic creativity, “Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection,” a companion to the exhibition of the same title at the de Young, celebrates an important gift to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. It focuses on a selection of works that emphasize the Weisel Family Collection’s depth in indigenous arts of the American Southwest, from ancient ceramics to basketry, ceramics, and Navajo textiles from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Art from the Pacific Northwest and the first Plains Ledger drawings to enter the Fine Arts Museums’ holdings are also explored. Published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco is available now.

The de Young is located in Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, in San Francisco. It is open 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, open select holidays and closed most Mondays. General admission tickets are required and range in price from $6 to $10; free first Tuesday of the month.

Please visit for more information.

Fine Arts

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