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. Click here to see Art in the Gardens.


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, Richard 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.

Meet the Guest Curators, click below:

Meet the Guest Curators

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

“I chose this watercolor by Michael Chiago because he captures, with such charm, the lives of the Tohono O’odham people and their intimate relationship with the Sonoran Desert. This beautiful watercolor depicts the desert at night, a special time for the pollination of the saguaro flower. The saguaros large white tubular flowers appear in May and early June. Nectar-feeding long-nosed bats time their annual migration from Mexico in order to pollinate these nocturnal flowers. The flowers attract them with their sturdy open petals and pumpkin-like odor. They are filled with abundant energy-rich nectar and protein-rich pollen. Birds and insects will visit any flowers left untouched by bats the following day. Pollinated flowers mature into oval green fruit which ripen into juicy red fruit. The pulp is very sweet and used for making wine.

Michael Chiago was born and lives on the Tohono O’odham reservation. In addition to being an illustrator, Tohono Chul was awarded a grant from the Pima County Arts Council to commission Chiago to create a narrative of the lifecycle of the saguaro connected with the Tohono O’odham. These works can be seen along the Saguaro Loop Trail.”

Vegetable Harvest

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

Selected by Gigi Kammayer

“I chose this watercolor by Michael Chiago because of the way he captures the lives of the Tohono O’odham people and their relationship with the Sonoran Desert. This colorful watercolor depicts two women and a boy carrying home traditional baskets filled with vegetables and fruit from the fall harvest. These vegetables are planted in spring, taking advantage of the rains and their water-preserving irrigation system. The fruits of the saguaro provided them food until the crop was ready for harvesting.  Back at their Ramada, they will prepare and preserve the vegetables and fruit for sustenance.”

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

“This pen and ink drawing by Tohono O’odham artist, Michael Chiago, depicts the traditional Tohono O’odham baskets. They hold the wine made from the sweet red saguaro fruits harvested in May and June. The basket in Michael Chiago’s drawing is of tradition design while many present-day harvesters have forgone traditional baskets for modern plastic containers.”

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

“This pen and ink drawing by Tohono O’odham artist, Michael Chiago, depicts a Tohono O’odham woman in native dress carrying a basket upon her head. Saguaro fruit, the most important ingredient in Tohono O’odham traditional wine, is a versatile and nutritious fruit. Tohono O’odham women have traditionally used the fruit for syrup and jam and its seeds can be ground to make flour. The first step to harvesting the sweet, red fruit is to knock it off the saguaro with a kui’pad, a long stick fashioned from saguaro ribs and topped with a crosspiece of creosote. They never knock down fruit by throwing rocks or hurting the cactus in any way.

Once enough fruit has been gathered, it is carried back to the family Ramada for preparation. The woman in Michael Chiago’s drawing has gathered saguaro fruit and is ready to prepare it. Though she carries the fruit in a coiled basket on her head, many present-day harvesters have forgone traditional baskets for modern plastic containers.”

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.”


Season of the Saguaro

Tohono Chul founders, Richard and Jean Wilson, had a great respect for the Tohono O’odham people and their culture. Translated, Tohono Chul means “desert corner” in the O’odham language. For generations the Tohono O’odham, native desert dwellers, have used their intimate knowledge of plants, animals, and the land to survive the arid environment and the harsh rigors of the Sonoran Desert. 

The Tohono O’odham’s New Year begins with the saguaro harvest and the coming of the monsoon rains. The influence of O’odham culture is found throughout the Tohono Chul: in structures, in the gardens and on the trails. The Sin Agua Garden borrows from Ak-Chin, the O’odham storm water run-off irrigation method and farming, while a nearby ramada replicates a traditional structure, providing shade for visitors.

The Saguaro Discovery Trail interprets the O’odham’s cultural connections and reverence for the iconic desert sentinel, the saguaro, with illustrations created by O’odham artist, Michael Chiago. The project, made possible with funds from the Tucson Pima Arts Council, explores the importance of the saguaro for the Tohono O’odham people.

Our Season of the Saguaro exhibition focuses on pieces from our Permanent Collection including the saguaro series by Michael Chiago, sculptural work by the Franco Family and more.

For more information about the artists in this exhibition, please click below:

Artist Biographies

Michael Chiago was born on the Tohono O’odham reservation west of Tucson. Set against a backdrop of mountains and desert, his artworks depict the traditional gatherings that bring his people together in friendship and prayer. Chiago illustrated the children’s book, Sing Down the Rain, which tells the story of the saguaro wine ceremony. These paintings are part of a series commissioned by Tohono Chul Park for our Saguaro Discovery Trail that explores the importance of the saguaro for the Tohono O’odham people.


Della Cruz and her husband Fred Cruz have been partners, creating unique works of art, shared their heritage and provided demonstrations to educate the public regarding all aspects of this Tohono O’odham tradition for over 25 years. Della learned to weave when she was five while growing up in a small rural village near Sells, AZ on the Tohono O’Odham Nation land. Her mother taught her the intricate details of this lengthy process and as Della explored ways of weaving over the years, it became an artistic calling for her. Later, she developed an idea for the three dimensional, figurative basket designs that she and Fred have become known for. Della particularly enjoys creating desert animal figures and likes to incorporate designs reflecting the seasons, such as the Saguaro Fruit Harvest.


The Franco Family has a long history of carving dolls from native cacti. The tradition began sometime in the 1940’s with Domingo Franco and his wife, Chepa. Domingo would carve figures from Saguaro Ribs and Chepa would dress them in typical Tohono O’odham fashion, often times they were arranged to reflect the daily routines of the people. Upon Domingo’s death in 1966, Chepa persevered and developed her own distinctive style, working until her death in 1980. Their son, Thomas, and his wife carried on the tradition and developed their own style of carving figures and adding them to unique desert environments made on top of wooden boards covered with sand and various carvings depicting vegetation, structures, and tools.

To view our virtual exhibition, please click below:

View Exhibition

Tohono O’odham Village

Michael Chiago
gouache on illustration board
Commissioned with funding from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council
ACNO 2003.2.2

The Tohono O’odham have made their homes in the Sonoran Desert for generations. They learned to live in the desert, to be members of its unique natural community, to harvest wild foods and farm arid land. On a typical summer day, people are at work and at play while a storyteller sits in the shade of a ramada, with children gathered around to listen. Baboquivari Peak, sacred to the Tohono O’odham, is visible in the distance.

The Hunter

Thomas Franco
carved saguaro rib, fabric, leather strips, human hair, dirt, rocks, plants, and an animal skull with paints and stains
Gift from the Collection of Martha and Frank Secan
ACNO 2004.3.2

A man stands holding bow in one hand and arrow in the other in a desert scene complete with plants and an animal skull.

Origin of the Saguaro

Michael Chiago
gouache on illustration board
Commissioned with funding from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council
ACNO 2003.2.3

One Tohono O’odham creation story explains the origin of the saguaro thus: long ago, a young boy was left to grow up alone while his mother played toka, field hockey. One day the boy went to find his mother, traveling to many villages, crossing the mountains, asking animals for help along the way. When at last, he found her, she was too busy with her game to come to him. He stood in a tarantula hole and asked the village children to help him sing. With each song, the boy sank deeper into the ground. His mother, warned of her son’s fate, ran to him, but arrived too late. He was gone. As it happened, Coyote (Ban) was passing by and told the mother he would rescue her son. Instead, tricky Coyote ate the child and presented the mother with bare bones. From the spot where those bones were buried, the first saguaro grew.

From a very young age, Tohono O’odham children are taught that they must never harm a saguaro; they are reminded that saguaros are people too

Desert at Night

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

In May and June, the saguaro cactus blooms, promising fruit to come. At night, long-nosed bats feast on the blossom’s pollen and nectar, assisting in pollination, which is essential for fertilization and fruit production of the cactus. Gila woodpeckers nest in cavities hollowed out of saguaros.

Pastoral Desert Scene

Michael Chiago
gouache on paper
Commissioned with funding from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council
ACNO 2003.2.1

In early summer, the desert bakes in the hot, dry sun. Many animals have adapted to this harsh environment; some creatures seek relief from the heat of the day in the shade of trees. Saguaro flowers bloom and everyone hopes that rain will come soon.

Saguaro Camp

Michael Chiago
gouache on illustration board
Commissioned with funding from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council
ACNO 2003.2.6

Year after year, Tohono O’odham families return to the same sites, where saguaros are plentiful. Some Tohono O’odham families still spend several days or weeks in saguaro camps, while others go on weekends, as their work schedules permit. Just as their ancestors did, they build ramada’s for shade, using mesquite or palo verde for framing and ocotillo, brush, or saguaro ribs for roofing. They may also use modern materials such as lumber and tarpaper. Ramada’s may shelter tables and chairs for socializing because the saguaro camp is a time for visiting with family and friends, as well as a time of hard work.

Man with Shield and Woman with Carrying Basket

Domingo and Chepa Franco
carved saguaro rib, cholla, fabric, human hair, wool, yarn, and canvas with paint and stains
Gift of Joan E. Donnelly and David Taylor
ACNO 2005.3.2

A husband leads the way on this couple’s journey. He holds a shield in one hand and a drum beater and rattle or war club in the other. His wife carries her belongings in a carrying basket on her back, and uses a walking stick. Her basket is filled with natural fibers, a roll of cloth representing a bed roll, a shallow wood tray and hollow tree trunk.

Woman With Burden Basket

Domingo and Chepa Franco
carved saguaro rib, wood, fabric, human hair, saguaro boot, natural fiber and yarn with paints and stains
Gift of Vicki and Neil Donkersley
ACNO 2004.2.1

A woman carries a load on her back in a large carrying basket. One arm steadies the basket while, in the other hand, she holds a forked walking stick. The basket contains fiber, a miniature pot made from a saguaro boot, a wood basket and a shallow wooden mixing bowl. Hanging from the basket near the woman’s head is a wooden water jug.  A head strap helps the woman carry the load.

Women carried firewood, pottery and other belongings with a carrying basket. The basket was typically made of long saguaro ribs connected with an open-weave netting made of twisted agave fibers. A head strap and back pad were made using plaited sotol fibers.

Tohono O’odham Family Outside their Brush Home

Chepa and Thomas Franco
wood, cardboard, fabric, human hair, sticks and brush
Gift of Joan Donnelly and David Taylor
2008.6.1

Three figures, two male and one female, standing outside a round, brush structure. A stick stands in the back left corner, representing a tree. The one-inch wood base is covered with dirt, small gravel and brush debris. Male figures stand to the left of brush home opening and woman stands to the right. All three figures are extending their arms and one is bent over, indicating the figure was meant to perform a task of some kind.

Because of their lifestyle, their houses needed to be of easy construction while providing the necessary shelter. The Tohono O’odham call their house structures “kis” and they made a round thatched home from a sturdy foundation of either saguaro ribs, ocotillo, or mesquite branches covered in grasses and brush. Each house included an eastern-facing entry door, small enough to crawl through, and a central fire pit. Cactus, plants, and rocks were removed and the dirt-packed floors were either left otherwise unmodified or covered with plaited yucca mats. Most often, the dwelling was built during the summer months and the family built a ramada structure nearby.

Tohono O’odham Couple under a Ramada

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Franco
carved saguaro ribs with cholla, wood, cloth, and human hair on a wooden sand covered base
Gift from the Collection of Linda and Peter Friedman
ACNO 2016.1.1

A couple under a ramada made of saguaro ribs with a cooking stove made from cholla skeleton behind them. There is a mortar on the ground and a jug, possible representing the saguaro harvest.

Saguaro Harvest

Michael Chiago
gouache on illustration board
Commissioned with funding from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council
ACNO 2003.2.5

Early summer’s saguaro fruit month is the first month of the Tohono O’odham year. Roughly equivalent to late June and early July, this is when the saguaro fruit ripens to scarlet red. A Tohono O’odham man and woman harvest ripe saguaro fruit using saguaro rib harvesting poles. Women with willow baskets carry and sort fruit and, on the ground, children gather and sample the fruit. The first step in preserving the annual harvest is to split open the fruit that is not open already and scoop the pulp and seeds into a bucket while many temptingly sweet and crunchy fruits are eaten on the spot. During the last harvest of the season, the emptied husks are placed on the ground with their red interiors turned toward the sky to hasten the rains.

Saguro Harvester

Della Cruz
yucca, beargrass, devil’s claw and yucca root
Gift of Vicki and Neil Donkersley
ACNO 2006.3.1

This sculpture depicts a person in the act of saguaro harvesting. There is a basket on the base for the fruit, and the figure holds a large stick to pluck the fruit. The first step in preserving the annual harvest is to split open the fruit that is not open already and scoop the pulp and seeds into a bucket while many temptingly sweet and crunchy fruits are eaten on the spot. During the last harvest of the season, the emptied husks are placed on the ground with their red interiors turned toward the sky to hasten the rains.

Woman Making Saguaro Jam
Domingo and Chepa Franco

carved saguaro rib, fabric dress, leather belt, cholla and human hair with paints and stains
Gift of Joan E. Donnelly and David Taylor
ACNO 2005.3.1

A woman is making jam from red-ripened fruit of the saguaro. She has a pot placed over an outdoor campfire to boiling the mixture. The woman has a dipper and wire utensil that she uses to stir or skim the mixture. Two baskets, one on top of another, are at her feet with the top basket being a sieve to filter the pulpy fruit from the liquid that drains into the bottom basket. The Francos cleverly used a natural piece of cholla to represent the sifting basket.

Wine Ceremony

Michael Chiago
gouache on illustration board
Commissioned with funding from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council
ACNO 2003.2.7

I’itoi, the creator of the Tohono O’odham, taught the Desert People their sacred wine ceremony so they could summon the rain. He taught them to make saguaro wine and gather to drink the wine and sing important songs to sing down the rain. For two nights, villagers dance in a circle outside of the Rain House where the saguaro wine ferments. The chief singers sing and make music with gourd rattles. The medicine man, in the center, holds eagle feathers to catch the wind to will blow the clouds in, bringing rain. Once the wine is ready, people sit in a circle and sing stories about how the wine makes the rains come and pass the wine baskets around, drinking until it is gone.

Basket Weaver

Chepa Franco
carved saguaro rib, fabric, human hair; miniature basket; paints and stains
Gift from the Collection of Martha and Frank Secan
ACNO 2004.3.1

A woman is seated and holding a coiled Tohono O’odham basket. She wears a green cotton dress and human hair tied with fabric thong. Several loose fibers of yucca lie near her feet.

Unknown Tohono O’odham Artist

Coiled Storage Jar
beargrass with white and green yucca
Gift of the Estate of Agnes T. and Don L. Smith
98.1.46

Coiled Tohono O’odham storage jar with a round body and a flat base. The jar has a stacked triangle design on the body with saguaro design at neck and shoulder of jar

Monsoon Rain Storm

Michael Chiago
gouache on illustration board
Commissioned with funding from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council
ACNO 2003.2.8

As a result of a successful wine ceremony, the summer rain arrives and washes through the desert. The sky is dark, lightning flashes, and animals seek cover. The monsoon season provides young and mature saguaros an opportunity to replenish their stores of water.

Vegetable Harvest

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

Two women and a boy carry beautiful baskets full of corn, squash, melons and devil’s claw, the bounty of cultivated foods that came as a result of summer rains. Summer rain brings the harvest season for the tepary beans, squash and corn. Traditional Tohono O’odham fields were located at the mouths of arroyos where floodwaters deposited fertile silt from the foothills and mountains. Crops were planted in soil made rich by previous seasons of flooding and were irrigated with water from the current season’s rainfall. The Tohono O’odham honored the desert’s rhythms and the desert rewarded their wisdom and hard work with successful harvests. Tohono O’odham farmers grew devil’s claw for making baskets, including those used in the saguaro wine ceremony to summon rain back to the desert year after year.

Woman and Man Plowing their Fields

Chepa Franco
carved saguaro rib, fabric clothes, and human hair with stains and paint
Gift of Linda and Peter Friedman
ACNO 2006.2.1

Working together, a couple plows their fields. The woman wears a harness around her waist and pulls the plow while her husband pushes in back, making the furrows to plant their crops.
In the past, the Tohono O’odham farmed their desert lands by using seasonal rainfall and diverting water from rivers and washes. Their traditional crops of tepary beans, squash, corn and melons provided a bountiful harvest coupled with the desert’s wild natural foods including cholla buds, mesquite beans, and prickly pear and saguaro fruit.

Coiled Tray

Unknown Tohono O’odham Artist
beargrass with bleached yucca and devil’s claw
ACNO 98.1.6

Coiled tray with four revolving seedpod designs

Woman Grinding Mesquite Beans

Domingo and Chepa Franco
carved saguaro rib, wood, fabric and human hair with paints and stains
Gift of Joan E. Donnelly and David Taylor
ACNO 2004.1.1

A woman grinds dried mesquite beans using a natural stone mortar and a tapered cylindrical pestle. A basket for mesquite flour sits on top of the mortar with another basket storing mesquite beans set at her feet. A woman might spend a whole day gathering and grinding enough mesquite beans to feed one person for five days. Mesquite beans make slightly sweet-tasting flour that is high in calcium, iron and zinc.

Woman Baking Bread in an Outdoor Oven

Domingo and Chepa Franco
carved saguaro rib, wood, fabric, human hair and cholla with paints and stains
Gift of Joan E. Donnelly and David Taylor
ACNO 2004.1.2

A woman is making bread for a feast, the Wine Ceremony,an anniversary, a wedding, or a wake. The unshaped dough is in a dish to her left with the newly baked bread is raked from the oven and will be placed in the basket to her right.

Tohono O’odham Family Scene under Ramada

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Franco
carved saguaro rib, wood, fabric, and human hair with paints and stains
Gift from the Collection of Martha and Frank Secan
ACNO 2004.3.3

A family of three performs traditional tasks under their ramada. The older woman is shelling mesquite beans to be ground into meal, the younger woman is putting a pot of beans on the fire, and the man is about to have a drink from the dipper near the clay water jar.

The Next Generation/

Saguaro Came Full Circle
Michael Chiago

gouache on illustration board
Commissioned with funding from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council
ACNO 2003.2.10

While saguaros die from many causes—including drought, disease, hungry animals, encroaching development, vandalism, lightening, wind, old age, and especially freezing temperatures, death does not end their role in the desert community. A variety of insects and other animals feed on and make their homes in decaying and fallen saguaros. People use dried saguaro ribs for building materials and tools, such as the Tohono O’odham’s cactus puller, and empty saguaro boots are perfect storage containers.


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