The Denver Art Museum's pre-Columbian collection represents nearly every major culture in Mesoamerica, Central America, and South America. Included are masterworks in ceramic, stone, gold, jade, and textiles.
NOW ON VIEW: See artworks from the pre-Columbian art collection in the cross-departmental exhibition Stampede: Animals in Art.
EXPLORE THE COLLECTION ONLINE: Browse artworks from the pre-Columbian 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.
See how animals have captivated artists throughout history in the exhibition Stampede: Animals in Art. This cross-departmental exhibition brings together more than 300 objects from the Denver Art Museum’s collection to explore the presence of animals in art throughout centuries and across cultures. More
News & Stories
Learn how the DAM conserved these three kings from the 1700s and see them in Stampede: Animals in Art. More
Looking for fun things to do with holiday visitors? Bring them to the Denver Art Museum! More
Melanie Yazzie will be in the 3-D Studio demonstrating 3-D animal sculpting December 9-10. More
En diciembre habrá muchísimas actividades para toda la familia en el DAM. Podrá estar cerrado el Edificio Norte, pero hay tanto que hacer en el Edificio Hamilton ¡que quizá quieras regresar una y otra vez para divertirte con nosotros! Como siempre, los jóvenes de hasta 18 años entran gratis al DAM. More
There is so much to do, you may want to come back multiple times to join in all the fun! As always, youth 18 and under receive free general admission to the DAM. More
Celebra tu creatividad cada primer sábado del mes con actividades bilingües gratuitas para toda la familia. Visítanos el sábado, 2 de diciembre y participa en las actividades mencionadas a continuación.
Déjate inspirar y crea obras de arte en nuestras salas de arte de 10:30 am–4 pm.
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 email@example.com 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.
- Victoria Lyall, Frederick & Jan Mayer Curator of Pre-Columbian Art
- 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:
- 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)