Jornada Style Art
The masks in Cave Kiva represent only a small fraction of the known inventory painted at Hueco Tanks. More than 200 have been recorded at the site, constituting the largest assemblage in North America. Although masks and facial depictions appear at other sites, those at Hueco Tanks deserve special consideration, according to rock art specialist Polly Schaafsma, because of "their distinctiveness within the style and the degree of sophistication they exhibit."
Artist Forrest Kirkland, one of the first researchers to comprehensively document Hueco Tanks rock art, classified the masks into two descriptive categories that are still used today: solid and outline. As with any classification scheme, there is considerable overlap between the two. Outline masks, also called linear masks, are face-like, often expressive, visages encircled by an outline. Typical features include almond-shaped eyes with pupils, an elongate or triangular nose, and mouths of various shapes. Black and white pigments were typically used for these depictions, and occasionally red. These masks closely resemble petroglyph, or carved, pecked, depictions at sites such as Three Rivers in New Mexico.
Solid masks are more formal in appearance and generally lack a defining outline. Elements are commonly arranged in solid patterns, often in horizontal bands, with careful placement of negative spaces. Features typically include blank eyes in rectangular, almond, or circular "goggle" shapes; some have what may be beards and tongues. Painted chiefly in obscure locations at Hueco Tanks, solid masks may have had greater significance in ceremonies or rituals.
Wearing of masks, headresses, and other adornment was—and still is —an important component of ritual life and ceremonies in many Native American communities. According to ethnographic and observer accounts, the ceremonialists and dancers would “become” the gods or deities symbolized by the masks.
Anthropologists Kay Toness Sutherland and Polly Schaafsma have suggested that mask depictions at Hueco Tanks and other Jornada sites are evidence of a widespread ritual and religious system that strongly influenced the Anasazi and Pueblo kachina cults which appeared in the early to mid 14th century in New Mexico and greater Southwest. A number of the painted masks and depictions of masked dancers at Hueco Tanks appear similar to kachina masks. In "Spirits from the South," Sutherland points to kiva murals at the Anasazi Kuaua Pueblo, dating to roughly A.D. 1350, that include a number of elements similar to those of the Jornada Mogollon: the plumed or horned serpent, masked dancer, and a possible face with horned cap.
Other researchers, including anthropologist Helen Crotty, acknowledge there are elements common in both art forms, but point out important differences in formal qualities of the two styles that indicate two separate artistic traditions. The mask depictions of both the Jornada people and the later Pueblo IV Anasazi people may represent cults involving masked dancing, but, she notes that the origins of these cults are probably rooted in an ancient and widespread belief system associated with the adoption of a desert land only marginally suited to it. "Clearly such a belief system would be too old and too widespread in the Southwest to be traced by the appearance of masks in Jornada style rock art at some time after 1050."
Archeologist Darrell Creel, who has studied sites in the southwest and most extensively in the Mimbres cultural area of New Mexico, agrees that many of the symbols we see in both Jornada and Mimbres Mogollon art likely have underpinnings in a much more ancient time and are related to a larger Mesoamerican and southwestern transition—the beginnings of agriculture. Symbols for water and rain, such as rain altars, rain gods, and serpents, are common elements of societies in the western part of the continent, he notes. Although researchers now place the beginnings of agriculture in the New World at ca. 2000 B.C., there is no representational art known for that early time period.
Archeologist Marc Thompson suggests that duality, or the uniting of features represented in twin or paired elements, may be further evidence of "participation in a widespread cosmovision," rather than long-distance diffusion. Aspects of dualism are represented in numerous depictions at Hueco Tanks and other Jornada Mogollon sites as well as at Casas Grandes, Mimbres, and Pueblo IV sites. Paired elements such as fish and "Venus" glyphs or stars are represented in several of the pictographs at Hueco Tanks, including a mask or face with paired four-pointed stars for eyes. Several masks are presented as pairs, including two with conical hats, and a pair of individuals wearing horned headdresses that appear facing each other in profile. Twins and pairs are common in classic Mimbres pottery.
Artist Deborah Coolflowers is pursuing quite different leads in her study of Hueco Tanks art. She has attempted to correlate a pattern of elements and stylistic traits, or "signature characteristics," in several pictographs which she thinks may be the work of a "master artist." Among the characteristics she ennumerates are the use of red-orange pigment, depiction of earbobs on certain masks, as well as the use of dots, curvate designs, and interlocking crescents to fill in bodies of animals and what appears to be hair atop one of the facial depictions. Two pictographs bear a small symbol symbol resembling a short capital “T,” which she suggests may be the “signature” of the artist. The implications of this interpretation may prove interesting. A body of work attributed to a single artist speaks to someone having had the time and freedom to execute the works, someone perhaps connected to the small Hueco Tanks village site circa A.D. 1150.
Just how much of the art can be attributed to the Hueco Tanks villagers is unknown, although radiocarbon dates on several goggle-eyed figures overlap the time of their occupation at the site. At the Three Rivers site in central New Mexico Jornadan peoples carved and pecked a number of images similar to those found at Hueco Tanks, including expressive faces, dancers, and characteristic geometric designs. The site appears to be associated with a small village (LA4921) dated to around A.D. 1100.
Based on ongoing surveys, there appear to be many more pictographs at Hueco Tanks than is presently known. Computer enhancement of photographs also has detected previously unknown images, a selection of which are shown in the Hueco Tanks exhibit sections and in the section, Hidden Art. These include additional pictographs that eventually may aid in our understanding of Jornadan peoples. Many previously documented pictographs, however, have been obliterated because of weathering or human destruction. The Galleries of Forrest Kirkland watercolors included in this section allow viewers to explore copies of the pictographs as he saw them in the early 1930s, and see the remarkable imagery of the cultures living at Hueco Tanks.