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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

New Mexico
Jar with Frogs, Tadpoles, Hummingbirds, and Dragonflies
c. 1900

10 x 12½ inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of North America

The Zuni people believed that frogs, tadpoles, hummingbirds, and dragonflies forecasted rain and water, which were precious natural forces in an arid land. Hummingbirds were related to agricultural fertility because they drink flower nectar and spread pollen. Their bright plumage was associated with rainbows.

In the late 19th century, the Zuni Pueblo of New Mexico reached the height of artistry in its pottery making. Zuni vessels were decorated with rhythmical repetition of geometric designs, expressed with lines rather than solid painting. The outlines were often filled with hatching, a pattern of parallel or crossed lines. Sacred figural images were typically used on jars consecrated for religious ceremonies and kept in buildings called kivas.  Tourist demand for these kiva jars led to the creation of vessels like this one, decorated with religious symbols but not blessed or used ritually.

A ceremonial break—a short interruption of the lines that separate the neck from the rest of the vessel—is a characteristic of Zuni pottery. A Zuni legend warned that a potter would die if the line were not broken. The break also prevented the potter's spirit from being trapped in the vessel.