In 1920, the Cleveland Museum of Art became one of the first fine arts museums to display the work of Pre-Columbian and Native North American people. The Pre-Columbian world became a strong focus after World War II and the collection today includes about 750 objects and textiles that represent most of the major ancient cultures of Central America and western South America.
The best-represented Pre-Columbian region in the collection is Mesoamerica, now occupied mainly by Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. The greatest strength is in the art of the Classic Period, especially Maya works in stone, ceramic, and shell, Veracruz ballgame sculptures, and Colima ceramics. Highlights from the Andes—today, Peru and its neighbors—include important textiles, such as a world-famous Nasca painted cloth, along with a group of gold ornaments in the Chavín style and a rare Chimú litter back-rest. Notable objects from the Intermediate Region, now the Isthmus of Panama, include gold ornaments excavated from Sitio Conte in Panama and several fine Costa Rican ceramics.
The Native North American collection—about 190 objects—focuses on baskets, most made around 1900, and Southwest art, principally ceramics and textiles from both ancient and modern periods. Holdings also include several fine Saltillo serapes.