Art, Architecture & Culture in the American Southwest

Instructor: Eve Levinson

Eve has taught various courses of high school history and has a master's degree in education.

In the American Southwest, much of the culture has been developed from American Indian and Hispanic heritage. The unique climate and desert landscape had a great influence on art and architecture as well.

The American Southwest

The American Southwest, made up of the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and parts of California, was originally the home of American Indian tribes like the Pueblo, Navajo, Apache, and Hopi. In the 1500s, Spanish explorers, known as conquistadors, arrived to claim the region. The influence of each of these groups impacted many areas of cultural life, including art and architecture.

Adobe Architecture

Women re-plastering an adobe building.
Women Re-plastering an Adobe Building

Architecture in the American Southwest was primarily constructed using adobe brick, a sun-baked block of earth, clay, and straw. The Pueblo people relied on adobe for practical and social reasons. Everything they needed to make the bricks was plentiful and local, and they were fairly simple to make. The finished bricks were also critical in regulating the interior temperature of the buildings during scorching days and freezing nights. With few windows, the architectural style also blocked much of the sunlight.

Pueblo towns built of adobe took on a cohesive appearance and furthered communal relationships. Mixing, forming, and constructing with the bricks were involved processes that brought many individuals together. Groups could easily learn how to make and repair the materials, which meant they could better take care of their towns. Often, it was women who took on the task of re-plastering the houses.

American Indian Art & Culture

A Hopi woman with her pottery
Hopi Woman with her Pottery

A large part of what many have come to believe represents the art of the American Southwest is a result of the American Indian tribes native to the area, including the Navajo, Apache, and Hopi. Much of their designs were inspired by nature and faith, so they depict the desert landscape, local fauna, and symbolic patterns. Materials like clay, turquoise, and silver were frequently used for pottery and jewelry, with weaving also playing a large role. Baskets, blankets, and beading were important elements of spiritual life.

Some tribal symbols have become well-known through mainstream representation. The Hopi created kachina dolls, figures used in worship for life-sustaining needs such as more rain and successful hunting. And a frequent sight throughout the Southwest is the Kokopelli, a flute-playing fertility god.


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