This painting is a reproduction of an ancient Anasazi wall mural unearthed about forty years ago by archaeologists digging at Pottery Mound in central New Mexico. The painting depicts a bear framed by a striped border. The bear was painted on one wall of an underground room (kiva), and the painted border line ran around the four walls. For reasons unknown, the bear was represented in blue paint. The Blue Bear was one of many approximately 800-year-old paintings unearthed in the 1960s by archaeologists from the University of New Mexico, digging at a ruin known as Pottery Mound, so-called for the great profusion of pottery fragments scattered about the site. After archaeologists sketched and photographed this mural and others, the room was reburied to protect it, since there was no way at that time to remove it or preserve ancient paintings on adobe (mud) plaster. The story of the prehistoric Pottery Mound paintings can be read in the book “Kiva Art of the Anasazi at Pottery Mound,” by Dr. Frank Hibben (the book is out of print, but used copies may be bought from Amazon.com).
The original Anasazi painting was fragmentary, and had been damaged by its long burial in the ground, but with the approval and assistance of Dr. Frank Hibben, the original director of the dig, I reconstructed it from the drawings and photographs made at the dig site. In the original mural, the blue bear was pictured alone within the painted striped border. The other parrots, snakes, and dragonfly seen in and around the border in this print had been painted in other places on the walls, and I have pulled them closer together and integrated them into this scene to create a more informative composition illustrating the Pottery Mound Anasazi art. The other figures, like the blue bear, are exactly as they were painted by the Anasazi; they have merely been positioned closer to the bear in this print than they were on the ancient mural.
As to what the figures may mean, no one can be sure. The Anasazi were a Stone Age culture without writing, and thus left us no records, so it can never be known for certain what the bear or the various other creatures were meant to convey to those who viewed them. The bear appears to wear some sort of headdress, and has painted symbols on and above its face. Bears occur naturally in the desert mountains near Pottery Mound, but parrots were not native to the American Southwest. Parrots are nevertheless a common theme in the art of Pottery Mound and at other Anasazi sites, and were brought up from Mexico, perhaps as trade items. Their brightly colored feathers were highly prized (especially in contrast to the drab colors of the desert landscape inhabited by the Anasazi). The parrot on the left in the mural is eating corn that has been set out for it in rows, while the one on the right pulls itself up onto the painted stripe in a very realistic fashion, the way parrots actually do, showing how familiar the ancient artist was with these birds. The dragonfly is thought to have had associations with water, a precious commodity in the arid Southwest, and its presence may have been intended to encourage rain, along with what is presumably a rainbow extending from the back of the bear. The insect is shown laying eggs, which of course one can associate with fertility. The two coiled snakes with feathered headdresses and somewhat human faces are harder to interpret, but they may represent some sort of supernatural beings or spirits. Throughout the world, in many cultures, snakes have been seen as messengers to the underworld, since they disappear into holes in the earth (the snake goddesses of the ancient Minoan culture come to mind, as shown in their figurines of priestesses holding a snake in each hand). Both snakes seen in this Anasazi mural are deadly poisonous rattlesnakes, as indicated by the rattles on their tails, but only one has the true natural skin decoration of a desert rattlesnake.