The American Southwest

As with many aspects of American culture today, architecture has become a mixture of styles. This is known as eclecticism, which is simply the application of ideas or styles to find what really works, rather than adhering uniformly to a style. In the Southwest region you can find distinctive styles, but within each work it may be combination of styles, having evolved through history to become what we associate today with that particular region.

The architectural styles in the Southwest are shaped not only by the cultures that lived there, but also the environment around which they had to design. One major player is the Native American groups that had adapted to and taken advantage of the conditions of the environment while integrating their spiritual beliefs and social needs into their tools and furnishings. Southwestern-style work often integrates Native American graphics and designs into ornamentation and architecture.


To distinguish areas of Northern Mexico from the American Southwest would be to disregard the history of the Spanish colonial influence on the region. The Spanish Catholics played a large role in shaping the culture of the indigenous people, as well of the architecture. The Spanish influence on the southwest really begins in Spain.


The Andalusians, or Moors, were a group from northern Africa whose architecture had a significant influence on Muslim Spain. Characteristics of Moorish architecture include horseshoe arches, domes, lancet arches, courtyards, and decorative work with tiles. In the mid 19th century, a new fascination with these characteristics led to the revival of this architectural style. This was influential in the Spanish colonists' use of these features in the courtyard houses that fill the Spanish-inspired southwest.


In the Americas, Spain brought the fancifulness of Baroque architecture with them. Specifically in Mexico, Baroque elements developed into a unique style known as Churrigueresque. This included floral motifs, cameos and figures, and obelisk-like column pieces that served no structural purpose. Like Baroque, this style included curving draped shapes, with leave and floret details.


In addition to these Spanish influences, other styles evolved to complement the environment around it. Mission style architecture built by the colonial Spanish missionaries can still be seen today in many revivals of the style. Characteristic of this style are close ties to the environment and expressions of the values of the people who built the missions. Most missions have stone and brick walls with red tile roofs. Window designs included quatrefoil shapes and sometimes curved tops. Entryways were curved with double doors. The buildings were plain, and included a porch, built with wooden square posts. The buildings didn’t have much for embellishment.


As the territories belonging to the American Southwest began to be settled, territorial architecture grew out of the New Mexico Territory. The Anglo-Americans developed a style combining Greek revival architecture with the vernacular architecture of New Mexico. This included adding trim to adobe architecture. It was also the beginning of brick imports being transported along the Santa Fe Trail to build houses.

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Today in the Southwest, you may find homes in any style from Spanish Colonial revival to Moorish revival to territorial revival – all developed during the 20th century. With the acknowledgement of indigenous cultures' functional response in their building technology, contemporary buildings have taken on a whole new form of eclecticism based on historical styles, local materials that take on the characteristics of the environment such as timbers, stone, and metals, and the need to have sturdy construction to face the harsh climate of the desert.


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Nichos (Spanish for “niche”) are decorative boxes to display religious icons. These boxes may serve to mark a significant religious event or to honor a patron saint. While these may seem like some remant of antiquity, nichos have become symbols of ethnic identity and heritage in Latin America, and the American southwest.

Following Mexican independence from Spain, and a decreasing number Catholic priests and missions, many Catholic mixed race and native Americans practiced “Folk Catholicism.” These were religious practices suited to the frontier life and self sufficiency in northern Mexico and southern Arizona, were individuals took the initiative in providing for their own religious needs including shrines where individuals can seek aid from patron saints.

In the postmodern era, nichos have become a part of popular culture in Arizona and the urbanized American Southwest. What used to be a unifier for a small minority group have been transformed into an art form. In urban areas, some nichos are even made of discarded consumer goods. The Virgin of Guadalupe is the most common image in nichos, as she is a symbol of Latin American ethnic heritage in Southwestern United States.

Source: Riley, Michael “Mexican American Shrines in Southern Arizona: A Postmodern Perspective”. Journal of the Southwest. Vol. 34, No. 2 (Summer, 1992), pp. 206-231

One of our nichos features what is called a bulto, a three dimensional, hand carved religious figure, often saints. This type of iconography was introduced by the Spanish American colonizers and missions. A sun symbol, stylized by artistic influence from Southwestern Native American culture, is at the top of the cabinet. This type of cabinet would likely rest on the ground.

Our other nichos features a mixture of religious iconography. The cabinet features three embellished diamond shaped crosses at the top. The cabinet might have even been built for another use before the paper prints of religious icon were pasted into the back. This nichos would likely be hung on a wall.

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Burden baskets were used by Native American tribes primarily for collecting and transporting larger resources such as firewood, tools, shelter, clothes, food, and even infants. Burden baskets are carried using a strap under the bottom of the basket, up the back, and around the forehead of the carrier of the basket. Sometimes chest or shoulder straps gave additional support. This would leave the hands free, so that the basket carrier could multi-task.

Each region had indigenous material that was adaptive for making burden baskets. These baskets in particular must have been made in a region where animal skins could be turned into rawhides, and wood branches or sticks could be found to create the frame of the baskets.

Burden baskets were also commonly used in long distance travel, which meant they had to be light and rugged. Breakable pottery containers were not practical for nomatic tribes. These baskets could have belonged to the Apache or Navajo tribes of the American southwest, as these people were nomatic hunters.

When not in use, burden baskets were hung outside the home. If visitors came, they were to place their complaints and problems outside in the basket so as to keep the space of the family you were visiting sacred.

These baskets could be hung in the home. To use these baskets for a modern function, one could install lights in the baskets, and use these as hanging fixtures.


Pancho Villa Chandelier

Rumor has it that this chandelier belonged in the home of the Mexican Revolution general Francisco Villa – nicknamed Pancho Villa.

A well known figure of Mexican history, Villa transformed from the abounded child of penniless parents, to a ruthless bandit, to the hero of the revolution. Villa came from the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, one of the last colonial cities founded by the Spanish in 1709. Due to Chihuahua’s wealth from its silver and copper mines, and the success of Villa in the Mexican Revolution, some Americans even thought that northern Mexico would become an independent state.

Pancho Villa’s estate that he retired to following the Mexican Revolution was known as Quinta Luz. Following his assassination, the 50 room mansion was shown off as a museum to visitors by his widow, María Luz Corral de Villa, but later donated it to the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense. In 1983, it was reopened as the Historical Museum of the Mexican Revolution.

Villa’s home speaks to the northern Mexican environment, while borrowing styles that were influential to the Spanish colonizers. The building is divided into the main house, back house and courtyard. The courtyard is features with pink stone and bronze finish. While the Spanish Colonial Revival style was popular in Mexico from 1910’s to the 1930’s, the environment required solid construction, and so most of the stylistic detail was left to ornamentation.

This chandelier has extravagant, overlapping activity of motion. This is influenced by a mixture of styles – Moorish style that was integrated into Spanish art, Spanish Baroque style known as Churrigueresque, and a Spanish colonial Plateresque style. Common to Churrigueresque are scrolled drapes, leaves, volutes. Common to Plateresque is intricate and minutely detailed ornamentation that was compared to the intricate work of a silver smith. This intricate detailing can be seen in the carefully crafted copper ornamentation.


Courtyard Breezeway Double Doors

When it comes to the Southwest, mission style buildings with Spanish influenced style is seen everywhere. The distinctive factor in Spanish style architecture is that there is typically no set back in the front. It’s inside the building where outdoor lounging happens. Spanish revival courtyards typically have semi-circular arcades surrounding the courtyard, and connecting the indoor space to the outdoor space. These doors have details typical of Spanish revival such as Moorish style columns, and cut out shapes, as well as the iron strap hinges. The carefully crafted details on the columns could be easily formed from the teak wood, also suitable for outdoor furniture because of its weather resistance. Add these doors for a casual entrance way for an exterior sunroom, or breezeway.


Patterned Jail Door

This door combines three unique geometric patterns that have some influence of southwestern Native American designs. These doors also take some very distinct characteristics of contemporary Southwestern architecture. The basic rectilinear forms respond to the desert climate in the weathered look of the wood, and the focus on structural soundness, while leaving the stylization to the geometric basic ornamentation. Take this contemporary look one step further, and convert this piece into a handing or sliding door. Turn it horizontal, and make a utilitarian table top with three distinctive sections.


Rustic Wood Chairs

Nothing really helps one understand the harsh climate of American southwest desert than seeing the weathering of time in wood, an indigenous material that has been a widely used resource for centuries. The dry, arid temperatures, allow wood to be a viable material for all sorts of exterior and interior furnishings and detailing. The basic shapes of adobe inspired architecture can be seen in the minimal use of material to make a sturdy chair, while allowing for some geometric detailing in the carved back and front of the chair


Iron Building Stars

In the southwest, you won’t just find the lone star just on the Texas flag, you also might find it on the side of masonry buildings. Anchor plates are cast in the shape of a five pointed stars, and connected to a tie rod or bolt for structural reinforcement. Typically because anchor plates can be seen on the outside of buildings, they are made in a decorative style. You may be able to spot star anchor plates in cities with legacies of 18th and 19th century brick construction, but if you’re not in the mood for a scavenger hunt, we have iron anchor plate stars in the store. Repurpose these by adding hinges, and making a door knocker or hanger, or arrange the star in an artistic pattern on an interior wall.

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The Clipper

Relive the days of Spanish colonialism and trade in the Americas and around the world with the model of a 19th century Spanish clipper ship. Clipper were the fastest ships of their time, able to fly swiftly over the waves rather than ploughing through them. In exchange for a large amount of cargo, clippers transported goods quickly buy carrying extra sails.  This clipper model features the typical three masts and square rig of a clipper that would round the bent of Cape Horn to transport tea, or cross the Atlantic to gather trade items from the colonies.