Colima Mexico. Dog, ca. 200 BCE – 200 CE. Ceramic, 10 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 16 in. Gift of The Ted Weiner Family 2022.134

From Earth to Sky: Ancient Art of the Americas

May 11, 2024 - August 25, 2024

Hodge Gallery Temporary Exhibition Gallery

No written record was left by indigenous peoples living in west Mexico 2,000 years ago, but the clay objects in this exhibition offer clues about how they viewed themselves and their environment. Ceramic sculptures depict men and women in various roles and activities, spanning ages from infancy to old age. Ancestors and rulers are shown to legitimize and memorialize important families. Daily life, whether ceremonial or informal, is suggested with figures who are eating, drinking, playing music and ballgames. Familial and societal bonds are represented through mother-and-child, man-and woman, and warrior figures. Facial gestures, bodily postures, and bodily ornament all suggest unique or group identities.

Spiritual beliefs are reflected in the predominance of shaman figures, symbolic objects, and, most importantly, the fact that these ceramics were buried with the deceased. Like other ancient cultures, these peoples held a strong belief in the afterlife. They buried not only objects conveying social status, but also items to use in the afterlife like clay vessels, shells, and clothing. In west Mexico during this period, burials for honored dead or beloved ancestors took the form of a vertical shaft leading down to a horizontal chamber, which was often underneath the home. Possibly burial chambers were reentered to pay homage to the dead with annual gifts of food and drink, a precursor for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) annual celebration.

Related Programming:


Theater Stories of Ancient West Mexican Art

May 10 | 6p | FIA Theater | FREE Admission

Kristi Butterwick Martens, Guest Lecturer

Dr. Kristi Butterwick will discuss the stories that ancient West Mexican art tells. From the portraits of leaders, family, and kinship, the ancient people created their universe in beautiful clay sculptures, showing relationships and feasting celebrations. While the ancient people do not possess a name such as the Maya, Aztec or Olmec, their ceramic sculptures are among the most astounding and detailed pieces in the Mesoamerican art lexicon. Taken as a whole, the collection from the family of Ted Weiner gifted to The Flint Institute of Art is a stunning capture of life around 2,000 years ago in the environs of Tequila and Colima volcanoes in western Mexico.

Kristi Butterwick Martens received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1998. Her thesis was about Days of the Dead in ancient West Mexico. Her work has focused on ancient West Mexico since then. Dr. Butterwick’s research has resulted in publications and talks for the Chicago Art Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, among major American museums. Currently she is researching the origins of agave production and pulque feasts in ancient West Mexico, based on art, archaeology and biology.

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May 11 | 12p - 5p | Isabel Hall | FREE Admission 

Come see the exhibition From Earth to Sky: Ancient Art of the Americas and enjoy entertainment and activities during Community day. You are invited to celebrate the ongoing musical traditions from the regions featured in the exhibition with a performance by El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil. 

El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil is a non-profit organization focused on preserving Mexican culture and enriching children’s lives through dance, music, and education. For over 25 years, the organization has been a leader in providing Hispanic cultural programs to Michigan. 

The entire family can also enjoy Gallery Learning Experiences and other activities throughout the day.

El Ballet Folklorico performance in Isabel Hall 2p-3p

Ceramics demos 12p-2p

Print activities 3p-5p in the Lobby

GLEx tours available

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From the Exhibition

  • Jalisco Mexico. Kneeling Woman, ca. 200 BCE - 200 CE, Ceramic. 15 x 10 x 7 in. Gift of The Ted Weiner Family 2022.80

  • Jalisco Mexico. Warrior, ca. 200 BCE - 200 CE. Ceramic, 9 x 6 x 6 1/2 in. Gift of The Ted Weiner Family 2022.13

  • Nayarit Mexico, Ancestor Pair, ca. 200 BCE - 200 CE. Ceramic, each: 16 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 4 in. Gift of The Ted Weiner Family 2022.64