People have mixed pigment and made art on the Colorado Plateau for more than 300 years. The Museum of Northern Arizona’s collection reflects that span of human creativity, ranging from fragments of prehistoric murals to modern sculptures.
Today MNA shares its extensive fine art collections through regular exhibitions, but in its early years the fine arts curator had to rely on bringing in traveling exhibitions. To encourage Arizona artists, museum founder and first fine arts curator, Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, organized annual art and craft exhibitions. From 1929 to 1935 the Arizona Artists Arts and Crafts Exhibition showcased many notable artists, including Kate Cory, Gunnar Widforss and Lillian Wilhelm Smith. Junior Art Shows encouraged young artists, some who went on to become well-known artists. Art exhibitions specifically for the Hopi and Navajo raised the profile of Native artists.
MNA continues to celebrate and encourage the arts with exhibitions, opportunities for young artists, and the annual Heritage Festival showcasing Native artists. These annual festivals continue to be an opportunity for the public to meet and support new and established artists.
Gunnar Widforss Catalogue Raisonné
The Museum of Northern Arizona has the world’s largest collection of paintings and archival material related to Gunnar Widforss, the Swedish-American watercolor artist who became known as The Painter of the National Parks in the 1920s and 30s. The collection includes 22 original works of art depicting the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, the San Francisco Peaks, and other scenes from the region. Now those paintings are online, along with more than 1,200 other paintings and drawings by Widforss that MNA Fine Arts Curator Alan Petersen tracked down from private and public collections around the world over the course of a decade. The online catalog of Widforss’ work is a lush visual adventure, moving as Widforss did from the homes, hills and harbors of Europe to the cliffs and canyons of the American west.Learn More
MNA does more than collect and exhibit fine art. The museum also helps develop fine artists through the Namingha Institute, which brings a cohort of early career artists to the campus to work with a master artist. In 2021 the master artist is Dan Namingha, who helped initiate the idea for the institute along with Phil Smith, a long time supporter and art collector. When Smith passed away he left MNA his extensive collection of artwork by Dan and other members of the Namingha family, who are well-known artists descended from the famous Hopi-Tewa potter Nampeyo. Phil also left an endowment to create a “challenging and stimulating residency for a small number of promising young artists.”Learn More
More than 2,000 delicate works of art in the museum collection are being preserved through a $343,812 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Works on paper are susceptible to degradation from the acids in their original mats. During this three year project the artwork will be placed into new preservation mats and rehoused in specially built cabinets, creating a more stable environment to slow the chemical processes of degradation.Learn More