Permanent Collection

Tohono Chul’s Permanent Collection consists of artworks and artifacts representative of the Nature, Art, and Culture of the Sonoran Desert Region. Ranging from basketry and fiber arts to sculptural works and paintings, works from the Permanent Collection are displayed through our Quarterly “Collection Spotlight” and periodically in our thematic exhibitions.

Many of the sculptural works on the grounds are Permanent Collection items, including work by Mark Rossi, Fred Borcherdt, Ned Egen, and many others on display year-round.


Permanent Collection: New Perspectives VI

The sixth annual PERMANENT COLLECTION: NEW PERSPECTIVES exhibition features objects from Tohono Chul’s Permanent Collection selected by Tohono Chul Volunteers, guest curators: Phyllis Cavender, Gigi Krammeyer, Len Poliandro, Sunny Stone and Sara Wetegrove.

The Permanent Collection started in 1986 with a donation of sixty-five objects from the Estate of Mrs. Robert Wilson. Mrs. Wilson was the mother of Tohono Chul founder, Dick Wilson. The desire to preserve and exhibit objects is deeply rooted in the Wilson family. Dick’s great, great, great-grandfather was Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), a portraitist of the Federalist Era and founder of Philadelphia’s Peale Museum, one of America’s first major museums. Roughly a century and a half later, Harold S. Colton and Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton (Dick’s uncle and aunt) founded Flagstaff’s Museum of Northern Arizona. Today, Tohono Chul’s Permanent Collection has grown to include over 350 regional objects ranging from basketry, textiles, and ceramics to sculptural works and paintings.

All of the guest curators have dedicated themselves to Tohono Chul and jumped at the opportunity to explore the Permanent Collection and share their knowledge and appreciation of the objects they have chosen.

Phyllis Cavender moved to Tucson in 2003 after retiring from teaching kindergarten and first grade in Weston, MA. She enjoyed the Boston culture and music, so was looking for a replacement when she moved to the Southwest. It was a very big change of scenery, but Phyllis was determined to investigate the desert surroundings and enchanting culture that was before her. For many years, she volunteered at the Welcome Desk and found it to be very enriching. Meeting people from many countries is a joy. Tohono Chul just speaks to you each time you visit and says, “come back”, and you do!

Gigi Krammeyer had lived on the East Coast all her life, she moved to Tucson four years ago to escape grass cutting and leaf raking. The saguaro was all that she knew, but fell in love with the beauty of the desert; its soft greens and greys, its wonders of adaptation to the dry and hot climate. She came to Tohono Chul to learn about arid plants and desert landscaping. Gigi had no idea that Tohono Chul had such a gem of an art gallery, now her favorite. And now, Sonora is my destiny.

Len Poliandro retired to Arizona from New York after spending 26 years building a successful textile design business. Along with being a Docent at Tohono Chul, Len has exhibited his glass and metal art in various exhibitions at Tohono Chul since 2015. He traces his transition from an entrepreneur to an artist to 1992 when he and his wife joined the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture as Fellows for one year. In that fertile creative environment, he learned to use his hands to create objects as a form of communication, a way to articulate what he often find difficult to express with words.

Sunny Stone returned to Tucson in 2004 having worked and lived in several different cities for 20 years. She was astonished at the growth of the city and of amount of desert lost to new housing developments and commercial buildings. Another surprise was to find the Haunted Book Store gone and the few trails she had once walked had become several trails. It would be several more years of working as a substitute teacher before she retired for the second time and decided to enroll in the docent program at Tohono Chul in 2011. She has been active in one capacity or another ever since and especially loves volunteering in the Exhibit House and the opportunity to learn more about the unique exhibits the curators bring into fruition.

Sara Wetegrove is originally from Corpus Christi, Texas and was a career stay at home mom and homemaker. She was raised with an appreciation for other cultures and how those cultures expressed themselves. Sara was also brought up in nature and was taught an unending love of flora and fauna. Being a Docent at Tohono Chul is the perfect place where she can return to what she loves. Volunteering in the Gardens and the Exhibit House affords me the opportunity to share my love and enthusiasm for art, culture, and nature with visitors from all walks of life and from all over the world. Tucson is a one-of-a-kind beauty and she cannot imagine living anywhere else.

To view our virtual exhibition, please click below:

View Exhibition

Friendship Pot

Angea Family
ceramic
Gift of Vicki and Neil Donkersley
2005.4.1

Selected by Phyllis Cavender

“The many men and women dancing figures looks like a celebration of unity. They represent strength, love of life and the togetherness we all wish for within a family circle. I love the circle! The people face each other and share the joy of singing. Take note of the clothing and details on each individual. One man has his food in the air; look carefully at the Tohono O’odham symbols at the bottom of the pot. This piece reminds me of an inclusive family hug that says, “Hold us together forever”.”

Pueblo Friendship Pot

Helen Sando-Garcia
ceramic
Gift of Harold Fischer
2005.8.4

Selected by Phyllis Cavender

“In my estimation, there is nothing better than an authentic storyteller. I believe the Pueblos passed the abilities of singing and chanting stories to their young charges. Native American children must love the storytellers because they bring exciting stories, messages of friendship and a new interest in their culture. I love the closeness of the circle and one feels the joy of singing stories. Young children love to imitate, they are practicing their future as storytellers on the turtle in the middle. The gentle turtle is a symbol of quiet nature to observe along with the faces of the beautiful young children.”

Desert at Night

Michael Chiago
watercolor on illustration board
Commissioned with funding from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council
2003.2.4

Selected by Gigi Kammayer

Perspective coming soon

Vegetable Harvest

Michael Chiago
watercolor on illustration board
Commissioned with funding from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council
2003.2.9

Selected by Gigi Kammayer

Perspective coming soon

Traditional Woven Wine Baskets

Michael Chiago
ink on paper
Commissioned with funding from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council
2003.2.11

Selected by Gigi Kammayer

Perspective coming soon

Tohono O’odham Woman

Michael Chiago
ink on paper
Commissioned with funding from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council
2003.2.12

Selected by Gigi Kammayer

Perspective coming soon

Pot with Fire Clouds

Unknown Picuris Artist
ceramic with mica slip
Gift of Fred Cole
88.2.2

Selected by Len Poliandro

Perspective coming soon

Aholi Kachina

Jimmy Kewanwytewa
painted and carved cottonwood with horsehair, fiber, cotton and string
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Robert Wilson
86.2.16

Selected by Len Poliandro

Perspective coming soon

Two-Handled Jar

Unknown Navajo Artist
ceramic with pine pitch
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Robert Wilson
86.2.59

Selected by Len Poliandro

Perspective coming soon

Beauty of Life

Louis David Valenzuela
carved and painted cottonwood with horsehair and crepe paper
Gift of Louis David Valenzuela
2010.5.1

Selected by Len Poliandro

Perspective coming soon

Poster Paint Pot

Unknown Jemez Artist
ceramic
Gift of the Estate of Agnes T. and Don L. Smith
98.1.93

Selected by Sunny Stone

“I chose the Jemez Pottery Bowl and the Zuni Fetish Bowl for their differences. While there was little information to go on, I hoped with research I could add to their history.

The first thing I learned about this little bowl is it was very common. Starting around the 1930s, two tribes, the Jemez and Tesuque, started making similar and inexpensive souvenir items to sell to tourists. They decorated these small pieces with poster paint before firing. Because of this, the paint and the pottery are very fragile. The paint is easily smudged and when exposed to water it can wipe completely away.

For hundreds of years, the Jemez were mostly farmers and created plainware for their use while a few produced a distinctive black on white pottery to trade with their neighbors to supplement the harvest of beans, corn and squash. Then, during the mid-18th century, pottery making stopped all together and the Jemez traded with Zia Pueblo for most of their pottery needs.

Nevertheless, during the 1960s when interest in Native American Art rose significantly among collectors and tourists, the people of Jemez were stirred to make a higher quality pottery. Since the 1980s, Jemez potters have become very proficient and are now producing a wide variety of forms and types of fine pottery in red, black and tan tones. Traditional Jemez designs include plants, feathers and wildlife.”

Zuni Fetish Bowl

Unknown Zuni Artist
ceramic with a white slip and black mineral and vegetal paints
Gift of the Estate of Agnes T. and Don L. Smith
98.1.55

Selected by Sunny Stone

“I chose the Zuni Fetish Bowl and the Jemez Poster Paint Pot for their contrast. The idea of how artists choose to bring their ideas into form fascinates me. The examples I have chosen has me thinking that, perhaps, they were made by young artists. I say this because of how simple the Zuni fetish bowl from our permanent collection is compared to other Zuni artist.

The tradition of Zuni pottery making is a rich one, having been practiced for more than a thousand years to produce both functional and ceremonial vessels. However, by the middle of the last century, this art form was dormant, having given way to jewelry making, the main support of the Zuni economy. Over the last fifty years, pottery has been revived and many tribal members are creating new wonderful works of art.

Although little is known about this particular bowl in the Permanent Collection, the design, with rounded bottom and four stepped sides is familiar to the Zuni’s. The symmetrical designs of tadpole, frog, bird and deer with heart line are used in their tradition. The medium is ceramic with white slip and black mineral/vegetal paints. The fetishes in this bowl are shown in pairs except for a single frog on the bottom.

The Zuni live in the Pueblo Zuni on the river Zuni, a tributary of the Little Colorado, about fifty miles south of Gallup, New Mexico.”

Navajo Wedding Vase

Alice Cling
ceramic
Gift of Richard and Jean Wilson
86.3.1

Selected by Sara Wetegrove

“I fell in love with this vase the minute I laid eyes on it. Something about the finish, the design, the handle, I could think of nothing better than to share it with our visitors.

The Diné (Navajo) artist, Alice Cling, is the creator of this double spout traditional Pitch Glaze vase (also referred to as a wedding vase). It is absolutely rich with design and finish with the twisted handle. Alice was born around 1946 in a Hogan in Cow Springs, Arizona, the Tonalea area of the Navajo Nation. She learned her craft from her mother, Rose Williams, and her aunt, Grace Barlow. They were responsible for revitalizing traditional Diné pottery. A coil potter, Alice was the first Navajo potter to use a smooth river stone to polish her pots rather than the traditional corncob. Her pottery is considered non-utilitarian, representing a huge shift from function to art.

In the family tradition, her daughters are also artists, as are her sisters, Sue Ann Williams, and Susie Williams Crank. Alice lives and works in the Shonto-Cow Springs area of Arizona.

Cling received the Arizona Indian Living Treasures Award in 2006 and has work in the Smithsonian Collection.”

Katsina Design Jewelry Set

Doris Smallcanyon
silver, coral and turquoise bracelet
Gift of Suzy and Bill Mortimer in memory of Glenn and Louise Mortimer
2005.2.10a


Unknown Navajo Artist
silver and turquoise ring
Gift of Suzy and Bill Mortimer in memory of Glenn and Louise Mortimer
2005.2.10b

Selected by Sara Wetegrove

“I chose this beautiful Doris Smallcanyon Yei People bracelet and the ring with no hallmark to indicate its maker simply because I love them. Notice the detail and craftsmanship.

After a lengthy search, I found very little concerning Smallcanyon’s biography except that she was born some time in 1949 and she lives in New Mexico. Doris Smallcanyon is most known for her silver spiritual deity figures set with turquoise and coral: Yei to the Diné, Katsinam to Hopi and Ancient Puebloan Peoples. Many galleries and trading posts throughout Arizona and New Mexico offer her jewelry. She also makes squash blossom necklaces, rings, bolos, etc.”


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