The Heard Museum – At Home in Phoenix For Over 75 Years

Built in 1929 to house the personal collections of Dwight and Maie Heard, the Heard Museum has been a landmark in Phoenix for over 75 years. Encompassing 130,000 square feet of classrooms, galleries and performance spaces, the Heard is a place where visitors from across the globe come to learn about the region’s Native cultures and art.

A little history: According to the museum’s website, in 1895, Dwight Bancroft Heard and his young bride, Maie Bartlett, moved from Chicago to call Phoenix home, hoping that the dryer climate would help Dwight with various health issues. The warm air definitely had a beneficial effect on this young go-getter, because he soon became one of the largest landowners in the Salt River Valley, and the Bartlett-Heard Land and Cattle Company raised cotton, alfalfa, citrus trees and prize cattle. Later, Dwight became president of the Arizona Cotton Growers’ Association and is widely credited with helping to make the Arizona cotton growers industry competitive internationally. He was also involved in publishing, investment lending and real estate development, and Maie actively founded or supported civic endeavors such as the YWCA, Camp Fire Girls, Boy Scouts and the Woman’s Club of Phoenix.

Maie Heard and other Bartlett family members donated land for the city’s first civic center, which was located at the corner of McDowell Road and Central Avenue. This site is also where the original Phoenix Library and Phoenix Art Museum were located, and is where the Phoenix Art Museum stands today. Nearby, Dwight and Maie built a beautiful 6,000-square-foot house called “Casa Blanca” in what was then considered north Phoenix. Designed around an open courtyard, the home featured Spanish-style architecture and lush landscaping, and in fact, the couple is responsible for the planting of hundreds of palm trees along four miles of roads in Los Olivos, the neighborhood surrounding their home. When you see palm trees around Phoenix, say a silent thanks to Dwight and Maie, because local historians often credit them with introducing the stately trees to Phoenix.

Casa Blanca became quite the social hub of the city, with the Heards hosting a variety of family and friends including Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Marshall Field, Harvey S. Firestone and others. Over the years, they enjoyed collecting American Indian Art and began to acquire pieces that they exhibited in their home. As a result of their travels and contacts with trading posts and Indian arts dealers, their collection rapidly grew, and as time went on, it became evident that a space larger than their home should be dedicated to their acquisitions. Thus, the idea for building a museum was born.

Unfortunately, Dwight died of a heart attack several months before The Heard Museum opened in June 1929. Visitors frequently rang a doorbell of Casa Blanca so that Maie could show them the museum, but she didn’t seem to mind as she loved teaching visitors about the Native cultures that were dear to her heart.

After Maie’s death in 1951, the Board of Trustees worked to ensure the museum’s continuation by hiring several staff members and establishing a volunteer Museum Guild. Events featuring Native artists and food were created that still continue to this day, and major expansions occurred at regular intervals, with the most recent adding three new exhibit galleries, bringing to ten the number of galleries at the Heard. “HOME: Native People in the Southwest” is the museum’s 21,000-square-foot signature experience, housing almost 2,000 objects from the permanent collection.