The Painted Desert Inn
Evaluation of Structures and Cultural Resources
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Interior Decoration Styles

Two basic traditions are evident in the interior decoration of the Painted Desert Inn—New Mexican Spanish Colonial and Pueblo Indian. The former decorative style was expressed in a wide variety of media and forms—stamped tinware light fixtures, carved and painted wooden dining tables, carved wooden corbels and brackets in the form of massive, symmetrical scrolls, and carved framing around inset shelves and other small units. Electrical tinware chandeliers of two types illuminated the large Trading Post room and Coffee Shop while smaller tin fixtures of eight other types were used as interior and exterior wall sconces and suspended lights. Most of the smaller fixtures have been removed by unknown persons, but three of the four-bulb chandeliers remain. In the Dining Room, small tables with four chairs each were decorated by hand-painting floral and bird designs and by simple but effective knotching and scallops on chairbacks. These are not present now. Six different forms of brackets and corbels were used, some of which were large curvilinear blocks with flat faces and others were simple truncated blocks of wood. Light-colored walls with darker painted wainscoating as high as window sill level decorated the Dining Room. Beams are notched and spliced over corbels with hand-hewn surfaces, and peeled, halved and whole aspen savinos laid in herringbone or parallel patterns on the vigas combines both New Mexican and Indian practices in ceiling construction.

Wall and ceiling decorations are of two forms—original murals and small motifs painted on the walls of the Dining Room by Fred Kaboti, Hopi artist, and painted glass skylight panes in the sales room ceiling. These 50 panes and the frame sash holding them were included in the original design of the Inn as an alternate project. It is not known who painted the panes, but the designs are taken from Hopi pottery motifs, including highly stylized birds bordered by scallops, angular elements, and other symbols. The same type of design unit was used on the backs of lunch counter stools.

In the Dining Room, two fine mural panels each measuring about eight feet long by about three feet high, and two separate smaller units, are above a painted wainscot. Mural A, on the north wall, is bordered by a rainbow which mostly encloses various separate elements, such as eagles perched on mountains, swifts darting through the air, small quadrapeds, a kachina-like personage, a "thunderbird man," corn symbols, and other units. In one corner, two human beings seem to be lifting a basket by means of a rope and two bird helpers. Mural B, on the south or opposite wall, illustrates the journeys or adventures of two male individuals as they continue along a path, encountering animals, camping at night, and running with batons. In the center are shown Pueblo women and unmarried girls grinding corn and cooking at a village. In the lower left corner, below a corn symbol, the name "F. Kaboti" was lettered in; neither of the murals carries a date.

In the northeast corner of the room, the artist has painted two Hopi men stooped in the position of planting corn. Digging sticks, small baskets of seed and open holes in the earth are plainly visible. Each man has Hopi boots, breachcloths and sashes, hair tied into an elongated knot at the back of the head, and wrist guards or bracelets. Mural D, by a window in the northwest corner, includes three stylized eagles on a tan background. Mural E, in the lunch room, portrays two men and two women in costume and dancing poses, chanting. The dance shown is a Buffalo Dance (hence the horns on the mens' fur headdresses), a type presented in August by men and women of Second Mesa villages for entertainment. The dance is one borrowed by the Hopi from various peoples of the Rio Grande Valley, where it is wide spread.

In the Soda Fountain Room, a Hopi-style "sun-shield" similar to the circular sun shield element in the upper left corner of Mural B was painted in a corner. It is a common Hopi design motif.

The interpretation and meanings of the murals, especially A and B, will be gained through the efforts of Mr. Barton Wright, Curator of the Museum, Museum of Northern Arizona, who had known the artist for many years and will discuss the murals with Mr. Kaboti in the near future.

Biographical Sketch of the Artist

Mr. Fred Kaboti (or Kabotie) was born in Shungopovi Village, Second Mesa, Arizona, about 1895. His early education was in Reservation schools and later in the Indian and Public schools in Santa Fe where his talent in painting was developed during the early 1920's. He has been a teacher, author, craftsman in silverwork, art instructor, and a leader of the successful Hopi Silvercraft Cooperative Guild.

Honors awarded to Mr. Kaboti include Guggenheim Fellowship (1945-1946), Indian Achievement Medal from the Indian Council Fair of Chicago (1949), and Palmes d' Academiques of the French Government (1954). In 1960, he represented the United States during a goodwill visit to India. His work has been exhibited at major art museums and his authentic reproductions of the kiva murals from the 17th Century Hopi village of Awatovi have toured the country. He has illustrated numerous books and his works have been published in books and journals since 1922.

Although Mr. Kaboti shifted his artistic talents to silverwork in the mid-1940's, prior to this he was commissioned to paint murals for the Desert View Tower at the Grand Canyon, and on canvas for the Lounge at Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon, and during the late 1920's, scenes depicting Hopi daily life for the Museum of the American Indian, New York City. His son, Michael Kaboti, is continuing in the tradition of his father and is developing well-deserved reputation himself as a painter. Of Mr. Kaboti, Jeanne O. Snodgrass in American Indian Painters (1968), notes that "since 1920, his work and his name have usually appeared wherever Indian art is mentioned." It is the opinion of Dr. Jerry Brody, Maxwell Museum Curator at the University of New Mexico, that the Painted Desert Inn murals, done in 1948, may be the last commissioned murals painted by the artist as he completed a shift to silverwork and active guild participation.

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Last Updated: 14-Aug-2009