Gropius House

Mexican Clay Figurines

These three Mexican clay figurines were presented to the Gropiuses by Diego Rivera in Mexico City, 1947.

Artifacts from West Mexico are often grouped under geographic headings (including the states of Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit) and linked through similar cultural practices. The most significant shared tradition between these groups includes the context and location of their artifacts. Objects with origins of ancient West Mexico were deposited within shaft tombs. At anywhere from 3ft to 19ft below ground level, the Colima built tombs that consisted of a large chamber opening out of a narrow shaft. Over varying periods of time, the Colima placed several burials and accompanying funerary objects within a single burial chamber.

The Colima created earthenware effigies depicting human and animal figures in various postures and expressions with consistent use of round, smooth forms. The human and animal effigies would often be created as funerary sculptures to serve as intermediaries in the afterlife and placed within shaft tombs of local elites. However, during the early nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century, looting ancient shaft tombs for West Mexican ceramic objects became widespread among European, American, and international collectors. As a result, a significant amount of information regarding the Colima remains unknown. However, researchers and archaeologists are progressively conducting scholarly analyses of artifacts and architecture in order to obtain a greater understanding of the complexity of these cultures.

From 1910 until his death in 1957, Diego Rivera acquired a significant collection of nearly 60,000 Mesoamerican and Pre-Columbian artifacts, which now reside in the Anahuacalli Museum in Mexico City. Following the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the newly formed government sought to establish a national identity that transcended the history of colonialism in the region by abandoning Eurocentrism (an emphasis on European culture) and instead elevated the significance of Mexico’s Indigenous history and cultural heritage through the concept of indigenismo. As a result, many intellectuals, writers, and visual artists such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo sought to incorporate Mesoamerican and Pre-Columbian imagery into their work as a way to celebrate that heritage, which had long been marginalized in Mexico through hundreds of years of colonial rule and the Eurocentric dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.