Jan & Frederick Mayer Galleries of Pre-Columbian & Spanish Colonial Art, Level 4, North Building
Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Study Gallery of Pre-Columbian Art, Level 4, North Building
The Denver Art Museum's pre-Columbian collection represents nearly every major culture in Mesoamerica, Central America, and South America.
The Jan and Frederick Mayer Galleries of Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial Art were installed in 1993. Included are paintings, sculpture, furniture, silver, and decorative arts from the Spanish Colonial period, as well as pre-Columbian masterworks in ceramic, stone, gold, jade, and textiles. One component of the installation is an innovative study-storage gallery, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Study Gallery of Pre-Columbian Art. The large glass-shelved display cases allow DAM to place nearly all of its pre-Columbian collection on permanent display for audiences to share and learn about the cultures of the Americas. The presentation permits visitors to view the full spectrum of pre-Columbian forms and media, and compare multiple examples of items such as figurines, cache vessels, stone sculptures, and jade ornaments.
The encyclopedic Costa Rican holdings, largely donated by Frederick and Jan Mayer, are the finest in the United States. Stone sculptures include large, elaborately carved metates (grinding platforms), figural sculptures, grave markers, and mace heads, often carved in the form of fantastic animal heads. Jade axes, imported from Guatemala in ancient times, were carved into elaborate pendants and beads. Hammered gold breastplates and intricate cast gold pendants in the form of animals or costumed human performers advertised the wealth and power of Costa Rican chiefs. Highly sculptural and often brightly painted ceramics are especially abundant in DAM’s Costa Rican collection.
The South American collection incorporates works from Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Generous donors include Mr. and Mrs. Morris Long, Mr. and Mrs. Edward L. Luben, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Mayer, Mr. and Mrs. Robert H. Power, and Mr. and Mrs. Edward T. Strauss. Peruvian cultures, including the Chavín, Moche, Nasca, Wari, Chancay, Chimu, and Inca are well represented by ceramics, metalwork, textiles, and carved bone and wood. Ancient Colombian ceramics and gold include Calima, Popayan and Tairona. Chorrera, Bahia, Tolima, and Manteño style ceramic figures and vessels were manufactured in ancient Ecuador. The holdings of intricately carved, boldly painted ceramics from Marajó Island in Brazil are especially strong.
Holdings of Mesoamerican art from Mexico and northern Central America include stone sculpture, jade, ceramics, and rare media like carved shell, turquoise mosaic, and obsidian. Important donors include Mr. and Mrs. Horace E. Day, Mr. and Mrs. Lindsay A. Duff, Mr. Douglas R. Hurlburt, Mrs. Lewis K. Land, Mr. William I. Lee, Mr. and Mrs. Morris A. Long, Mr. and Mrs. Edward L. Luben, Mr. and Mrs. Cedric H. Marks, Mr. and Mrs. Raphael J. Moses, and Dr. and Mrs. M. Larry Ottis.
The Olmec, Mesoamerica’s earliest civilization, are represented by jade figures and masks, and ceramic vessels. An elegantly modeled, completely intact Olmec ceramic baby is one of the museum’s most important masterpieces. West Mexican (especially Nayarit and Colima) human and animal ceramic tomb figures are well represented, while holdings from the great city of Teotihuacan are especially comprehensive—ceramic vessels and figurines, incense burners, greenstone figures and masks, and even carved stone mirror backs.
The Maya civilization is represented by several stone relief carvings that portray rulers wearing elaborate regalia. The Maya ceramic collection is also exceptional: rare pre-Classic vessels and figurines, Early Classic cache vessels and blackware containers, and Late Classic painted cylinders and figurines that depict both court life and mythological events.
Things To Do
Centuries before the arrival of the Europeans, Andeans had known flying men and aerodynamic human beings, as we can see in extant pre-Columbian textiles, ceramics, and monumental sculpture. In a sense, these native beliefs prepared them for Christian angelic beings and a historical moment that turned the world upside down. More
Pre-Columbian art is full of human and supernatural figures in dramatic poses. This installation of 29 objects presents a cross-cultural selection of works from the DAM's extensive collection. More
News & Stories
Gracias a una beca del Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), el Denver Art Museum trabajará con cuatro artistas locales para presentar el programa Cuatro : A Series of Artist Interactions durante el próximo año. More
Four local creatives and artists will present Cuatro : A Series of Artist Interactions. More
When scientists in Costa Rica wanted to put a "face" to a 2,500-year-old skull, they needed a forensic artist. The forensic artist needed representations of what women of the time looked like. She came to the DAM. More
In almost every month of the year, staff members at the Denver Art Museum prepare artworks in our collection to be loaned to other museums around the world. It’s part of our mission, and we realize that without loans, exhibitions like Becoming Van Gogh could not happen. More
In Part 1 of this post, we discussed the possible origin and significance of an Inca sheet metal corn stalk in our collection, which is one of only three known to exist. More
The New World department has a comprehensive display of pre-Columbian artifacts from Central, Meso-, and South America located in the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Study Gallery of Pre-Columbian Art on Level 4 of the North Building. Objects in this space are made of clay (ceramics), metals, wood, and stone and served a utilitarian, decorative and religious/spiritual purpose. Often, all three functions were rolled into one. More
Scholars wishing to access the New World Department collections and/or library holdings must contact the Mayer Center well in advance of a visit. If approval for study is granted, the collection/library will be made available as the staff of the DAM's schedule permits. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Mayer Center Fellow Program
This program is designed to support scholarly research related to the museum’s collections of pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial art and to provide curatorial experience to art historians.
The Mayer Center Scholarship
The scholarship, established in honor of Frederick and Jan Mayer and sponsored by Alianza de las Artes Americanas, is awarded biennially to a doctoral student. It includes a stipend and two weeks of access to the museum's New World collection.
Recent Mayer Center publications on pre-Columbian art are available for purchase in The Shop and include:
- Pre-Columbian Art & Archaeology: Essays in Honor of Frederick R. Mayer, Papers from the 2002 & 2007 Mayer Center Symposia at the Denver Art Museum, Margaret Young-Sánchez, ed., 2013.
- Marajó: Ancient Ceramics from the Mouth of the Amazon, Margaret Young-Sánchez and Denise Schaan, 2011.
- Nature and Spirit: Ancient Costa Rican Treasures in the Mayer Collection at the Denver Art Museum, Margaret Young-Sánchez and others, 2011.
- Tiwanaku: Papers from the 2005 Mayer Center Symposium at the Denver Art Museum, Margaret Young-Sánchez, ed., 2009.
- Andean Textile Traditions: Papers from the 2001 Mayer Center Symposium at the Denver Art Museum, Margaret Young-Sánchez and Fronia Simpson, eds, 2006.
- Tiwanaku: Ancestors of the Inca, Margaret Young-Sánchez and others, 2004.
- Pre-Columbian Art in the Denver Art Museum Collection, Margaret Young-Sánchez, 2003.
- Jorge Rivas Pérez, Frederick & Jan Mayer Curator of Spanish Colonial Art
- Julie Wilson Frick, Mayer Center Program Coordinator
- Jesse Laird Ortega, Curatorial Assistant
- Anne Tennant, Research Associate
- Heather Nielsen, Associate Director of Learning and Engagement
- Margaret Young-Sánchez, Ph.D., Frederick & Jan Mayer Curator of Pre-Columbian Art 1999-2016
- Donna Pierce, Ph.D., Frederick & Jan Mayer Curator of Spanish Colonial Art 1999-2015
- Gordon McEwan, Ph.D., Curator 1991-1998
- Robert Stroessner, Curator 1968-1991
Mayer Center Symposium
Mayer Center symposia are held annually, alternating between pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial art topics.
Sponsored by the Mayer Center for Pre-Columbian & Spanish Colonial Art.
Past pre-Columbian symposia topics include:
- The Ancient Maya: Dance, Writing, Art (2016)
- Fabled Kingdoms: Luxury Arts of Peru's Northern Desert (2013)
- Marajó and the Ancient Amazonian World (2011)
- The Art of Teotihuacan and its Sphere of Influence (2009)
- Costa Rica and the pre-Columbian World: Honoring the Contributions of Frederick Mayer (2007)
- Tiwanaku: Ancestors of the Inca (2005)
- Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial Art in the Collections at the Denver Art Museum (2002)
- Andean Textile Traditions (2001)