The Turtle Dance

This mural, purposefully titled by the artist, portrays a ceremonial dance dedicated to bringing the blessing of rain. Twelve male and female dancers, accompanied by two dance leaders, give thanks for the beauties of life, abundant rain, and plentiful crops. A spruce tree stands behind the leaders, and both men and women carry evergreen branches, which symbolize strength and eternity, for evergreen is the giver and sustainer of life. Turtle shells decorate the legs of the men, and turtles are repeated at the base of the mural and accompany the cloud and lightning as symbols related to moisture and water.

The Artist

José Rey Toledo was from Jemez Pueblo. He attended the Albuquerque Indian School in the 1930s, and earned a master's degree in fine arts from the University of New Mexico in 1955. In 1972, he earned a second master's degree in public health from the University of California at Berkeley. He is known as a graphic historian because of his detailed, loving portrayals of Native American social and religious ceremonies, some of which are no longer performed, and are preserved only in his paintings. He has exhibited in Europe as well as across the U.S., and his works are on permanent display at the School of American Research and the Smithsonian Institution.

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