Celebrating the rich cultural heritage of Latin America, the Palice Gallery showcases many fine examples of pre-Columbian, Colonial, and Folk Art ranging from 1600 BCE to the present. These objects express the spiritual, secular, and political lives of the societies that inhabited these regions over a span of 3,000 years.
Included in the Palice Gallery are selections of pre-Columbian textiles, figurines, jewelry, and ceramic vessels that emphasize topical themes such as identity, ritual, ancestor worship, and daily life. This collection represents 32 cultures, including the Olmec, Aztec, Maya, and Inca, who thrived at different times and in varied geographical areas from the southern tip of Chile to Mexico. They formed sophisticated political systems, refined domestic agricultural practices, and developed medical and surgical expertise. These cultures excelled at ceramics, sculpture, mural painting, gold and silver smithing, and weaving. In addition, they created monumental architecture, intricate hieroglyphic writing, and complex astronomical and mathematical systems.
The collection also features works from Colonial Latin America. From its first voyages to the Americas in 1492 until its last African colony gained independence in 1975, the Spanish Empire was one of the first and largest world powers. Of its many territories in the Americas, the most important colonies were the Viceroyalty of New Spain (1519-1821) and the Viceroyalty of Peru (1542-1842). Spanish rule precipitated a blending of cultures and an overlaying of European traditions in art, architecture, and decorative arts on the existing indigenous practices. Skilled native craftspeople were trained to aid the construction of churches and the creation of paintings and sculptures to fill them, resulting in an entirely new, Mestizo (people of mixed descent) style which influenced fine art and folk traditions through the Republican Era.
Folk Art is a prominent part of the Museum’s collection which includes retablos, carved masks, and utilitarian objects. In the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, Folk Art has played a vibrant role in the communities in which it is produced. Using a variety of everyday materials including wood, paper, tin, and clay, many indigenous and traditional Latin American artists reveal a sense of imagination, struggle and resistance, and an appreciation for life which reinforces a sense of cultural identity.
The Tucson Museum of Art’s pre-Columbian and Latin American collection was started with generous gifts from the distinguished scholar and museum curator, Frederick R. Pleasants. Early in his career, Mr. Pleasants was one of approximately 345 men and women who worked to protect and save art and cultural treasures in war-ravaged Europe during World War II. These men and women are known today as the “Monuments Men.”