History of the Heard Museum | Heard Museum

History of the Heard Museum

Since its founding by Dwight and Maie Bartlett Heard in 1929 as a small museum in a small Southwestern town, the Heard has grown in size and stature to where now it is recognized internationally for the quality of its collections, its educational programming and its festivals; Phoenix has grown along with it. The Heard Museum is a living museum – giving voice to a uniquely American people.

Studio portrait of the founders of the Heard Museum, Maie Bartlett Heard and Dwight Bancroft Heard.

Maie Bartlett Heard and Dwight Bancroft Heard, c. 1928. RC46:3


The Heard Museum opened quietly on December 26, 1929, several months after Dwight Heard passed away from a heart attack. During its early years, as today, the museum was a central gathering place for locals as well as school children. Lectures, workshops and talks about the exotic lands the Heards had visited brought people from all around to the Heard Museum.

As a collector and connoisseur of art, Maie Heard had much to offer her small museum. Throughout her tenure at the Heard, she added quality artworks to the collection and worked closely with the board of trustees to direct the activities of the museum. She also oversaw the programming activities of the museum, approving speakers and insuring appropriate publicity was available.

View of the entrance of the Heard Museum in the early 1950s. RC76(E97):66

View of the entrance of the Heard Museum in the early 1950s. RC76(E97):66


The Heard Museum underwent significant growth upon Maie Heard’s passing in 1951.

In 1956, the Heard Museum Auxiliary was established to assist with educational programs. Today, the Heard Museum Guild numbers nearly 500.

In 1958, the Auxiliary launched two aggressive fundraising projects, a museum Shop and a Fair. Both activities continue with great success today, thanks to the continuing support of Guild members who work in the Shop and plan the Indian Fair & Market, which today draws nearly 20,000 people.

In 1967, a major expansion created the museum’s first collections storage area, a new auditorium and two floors of galleries, including one gallery designed to present the Goldwater Katsina Doll Collection that Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona had given to the museum in 1964.

Image of interior of Heard Museum Library. Not dated, probably 1970s or 1980s. RC76(L52):5

Image of interior of Heard Museum Library. Not dated, probably 1970s or 1980s. RC76(L52):5


The Heard Museum experienced another significant expansion in 1983, when it nearly doubled in size again to 78,000 square feet.

In February 1999, the Heard Museum added 50,000 square feet. The expansion added several new structures including an expanded Museum Shop & Bookstore; the Steele Auditorium and Dorrance Education Center; The Café at the Heard Museum (now known as the Courtyard Café); an artist studio; and the Nina Mason Pulliam Pavilion. Also added were the Library and Archives, administrative space, collections storage facilities and exhibit preparation areas. The expansion also added three exhibit galleries, bringing the number of galleries at the Heard to 10.

HOME: Native People in the Southwest

HOME: Native People in the Southwest


The long-awaited, $7.6 million, 21,000 square foot renovation of its permanent collection galleries culminated in the opening of HOME: Native People in the Southwest.


In 2011, the Heard re-purposed unused space to create an expanded bookstore, Books & More and the Coffee Cantina, a grab-and-go coffee and snack bar. The main Shop was remodeled, including new flooring and lighting. And, the Nichols Garden was also re-purposed and is now the Nichols Sculpture Garden, giving the museum a unique new venue for larger outdoor sculpture exhibits. The Heard Museum continues to look to the future as one of the nation’s premier showcases for American Indian art and history.

The Heard Museum Today

Since its founding in 1929, the Heard Museum has grown in size and stature to become recognized internationally for the quality of its collections, world-class exhibitions, educational programming and its unmatched festivals. Dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art, the Heard successfully presents the stories of American Indian people from a first-person perspective, as well as exhibitions that showcase the beauty and vitality of traditional and contemporary art.

The Heard Museum sets the standard for collaborating with American Indian artists and tribal communities to provide visitors with a distinctive perspective about the art of Native people, especially those from the Southwest.


Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara), b. 1962, "Tse-ping," 1991. Gift of the Najafi family and an anonymous donor.

Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara), b. 1962, “Tse-ping,” 1991. Gift of the Najafi family and an anonymous donor.

The museum’s activities revolve around collecting, preserving and presenting art ranging from ancestral artifacts to contemporary paintings and jewelry. Exhibitions lay the foundation for learning about the cultures and experiences of the people – past and present – who create art. The Heard draws on its extensive collection as well as loaned artwork to present a mixture of long-term and changing exhibitions.

The Heard Museum actively collects American Indian fine art, and a variety of paintings, drawings, prints, photography and sculpture can be found throughout the museum’s galleries and grounds. Fine art exhibitions reflect the scope of the museum collection, which contains historic drawings more than a century old as well as contemporary canvases.

Outdoor Galleries & Performance Spaces

Several of the loveliest areas of the museum are located outdoors. In the museum’s courtyards, landscape combines with water features and sculpture to create a variety of relaxing environments. The Scott L. Libby, Jr. Amphitheater provides a theater-in-the-round area for large music and dance performances, while the Steele Auditorium provides flexible seating for a variety of programs including performances, lectures, theatrical presentations, films, meetings and private dinners.

Interactive Learning

Visitors of all ages can try hands-on activities that range from weaving with beads on an oversize loom and creating wearable art to forming their own butterflies, Apache burden baskets and Yaqui paper flowers. Dozens of videos throughout the museum provide more in-depth understanding about specific cultures, art forms and artists.

School groups regularly visit the museum’s galleries and also can take part in hands-on craft activities in the Dorrance Education Center.

Events & Festivals

One of the most important ways the Heard Museum supports American Indian artists and encourages their artistic endeavors is through events and festivals. Combined, the museum’s events draw more than 40,000 visitors annually.

Volunteers & Supporters

While the Heard is recognized nationally and internationally for its outstanding art collections and interpretative insights, it is the talent, hours and funding given by museum volunteers that make the museum such a special place. From its Board of Trustees and Heard Museum Council to the nearly 500 members of the Heard Museum Guild, volunteers are involved in every aspect of the museum and provide invaluable experience and expertise.

Mission Statement

The mission of the Heard Museum is to be the world’s preeminent museum for the presentation, interpretation and advancement of American Indian art, emphasizing its intersection with broader artistic and cultural themes.

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