Behind the Scenes at the DAM

DAM Art History: Death Cart

Note: We recently found a copy of this historical Denver Art Museum photo on eBay. Death Cart is on view in the Jan and Frederick Mayer Galleries of Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial Art on level four of the North Building currently. Click the images below to see Death Cart as it appears at the DAM today.

This photo from 1948 image was published shortly after the DAM acquired Death Cart for addition to the Anne Evans Collection of Southwestern Spanish Colonial Art.

Large sculpted images of death riding in a cart have been used in churches and religious processions in Europe since the Middle Ages to represent the inevitability of death. Introduced to the Southwest by Spanish settlers in the late 1500s, in New Mexico and Colorado the figures are always dressed as a woman carrying a bow and arrow and they are known by the nickname “Doña Sebastiana (Lady Sebastiana),” probably in reference to Saint Sebastian who was martyred by arrows. 

On the morning of November 1, 1999, museum staff discovered that the Evans figure of Doña Sebastiana had lost her shawl (which was lying on the ground) and dislocated her hip. Although this may have occurred as a result of natural vibrations from visitor traffic, staff preferred to assume that she had a wild party the night before, on Halloween! Conservation staff re-located her hip and replaced her shawl; she has not had any further incidents.

Image credit: José Inez Herrera (active about 1890-1920), Death Cart, El Rito, New Mexico, about 1910, wood, gesso, animal hair, leather, silk, Anne Evans Collection (1948.22). Appears on boston_mass_archive eBay profile.  

Donna Pierce is the Frederick & Jan Mayer Curator of Spanish Colonial Art, the only curator devoted exclusively to Spanish Colonial art in the United States, at the Denver Art Museum.