The Denver Art Museum's art of the ancient Americas collection represents nearly every major culture in Mesoamerica, Central America, and South America. Included are masterworks in ceramic, stone, gold, jade, and textiles.
During the Martin Building project, the art of the ancient Americas galleries are closed. Please view select pieces from the Denver Art Museum’s art of the ancient Americas collection in the cross-departmental exhibition The Light Show.
EXPLORE THE COLLECTION ONLINE: Browse artworks from the art of the ancient Americas art collection anytime. Check back often for additions and updates.
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.
News & Stories
The Denver Art Museum offers discounted general admission* to individuals and families with a Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) card. More
Flowers are blooming, bees are buzzing, and things are changing. We have so many new and exciting activities here at the Denver Art Museum. Come and join the fun! The following activities are included with general admission, which is free for youth 18 and younger and for members.
A new story is ready to bloom at Cuentos del Arte More
April showers bring May flowers. While you’re waiting for those flowers to bloom, head over to the Denver Art Museum for fun for the whole family! Reminder: youth 18 and younger receive free general admission to the museum every day. More
Several photographs from the Denver Art Museum’s collection can be found throughout Stampede: Animals in Art, on view through May 19, 2019. This exhibition includes works from every curatorial department at the DAM and highlights the significance and prominence of animal imagery in art across cultures and time. More
Learn about lectures at the Denver Art Museum and other events throughout the Front Range. More
The seasons may start to change in the month of March, but there’s one thing that remains the same: there’s always a variety of fun family activities at the museum. Join us for art projects, stories, theater performances, and more! More
Scholars wishing to access the Mayer Center for Ancient and Latin American Art department collections and/or library holdings must contact the Mayer Center well in advance of a visit. Due to ongoing construction and renovation of the galleries, six to eight weeks’ notice is recommended. If approval for study is granted, the collection/library will be made available as the staff of the DAM's schedule permits. Please plan accordingly. 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 art of the ancient Americas art and Spanish Colonial art and to provide curatorial experience to art historians.
Recent Mayer Center publications on art of the ancient Americas 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.
- Victoria Lyall, Frederick and Jan Mayer Curator of Art of the Ancient Americas
- Jesse Laird Ortega, Senior Curatorial Assistant
- Jared Katz, Mayer Postdoctoral Fellow for Art of the Ancient Americas
- Maria Trujillo, Interpretive Specialist
- Anne Tennant, Research Associate
- Julie Wilson Frick, Mayer Center Program Coordinator
- 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 art of the ancient Americas and Latin American art topics.
Sponsored by the Mayer Center.
In 2019, the topic of the 19th Annual Mayer Center Symposium will be El Mar Caribe: The American Mediterranean.
Past art of the ancient Americas symposia topics include:
- Murals of the Americas (2017)—An international group of scholars discussed new approaches to understanding the function and meaning of both ancient and modern murals as well as their enduring legacy.
- 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)