NCMA Recommends: Dog Effigy

West Mexican, Colima state, Dog Effigy, circa 200 B.C.E.—300 C.E., ceramic with red slip paint, H. 11 x W. 9 3/4 x D. 15 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Mace Neufeld

A favorite and constant companion

Mesoamerican societies–for whom dogs were allies in life and death–placed dogs in tombs because they were considered guides to the underworld, which was a journey with dangerous trials. One of these challenges was crossing a river, and only a dog could help you reach the other side.

The animal most frequently depicted in Colima art is the Mexican hairless dog, known as xoloitzcuintli (pronounced show-low-eats-queen-tlee) by the Aztecs of the 15th century. In West Mexico, where the NCMA’s Dog Effigy came from, mourners placed ceramic guide dogs in tombs because they were considered proper company for the dead.

Video Visit with a Curator

Learn more about these hairless dogs; their importance to indigenous communities, both yesterday and today; and how artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera helped recover their significance to Mexican pride and heritage.–ngel Gonzalez, GlaxoSmithKline Curatorial Research Fellow

Live Drawing Room with Your Pets

Since we can’t get together for our annual Sit, Stay, NCMA dog party in the Museum Park, we’ve created a collection of virtual content for dogs and humans to still have a great time. Join Bill Thelen, artist and founder of Lump Projects, and a panel of dog-loving artists for a live drawing event on Friday, May 29, from 7 to 9 pm. The drawing prompts are pet-inspired, so make sure your dog/cat/bird/turtle/pony is there to help inspire and guide you. Sign up to be one of just 100 participants creating, drawing, and hanging out (from a distance!).

Pen Pals Wanted

Write to Xolo! Our friend Xolo, pronounced show low, is feeling lonely and cooped up during this Covid-19 pandemic, and he’s looking for pen pals of all ages! Xolo speaks Spanish and English, and he is an expert traveler and a loyal guardian. Please write a letter to Xolo, telling him about your time at home, your home-school experiences, past travels, and more. You can also ask Xolo questions. Letters can be mailed to 4630 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699. Attn: Xolo.

Pet Portrait Tips and Tricks

Our friends at Pawww Snap! Pet Photography may not be able to get that perfect shot of your pup in person this year, but they shared some tips on how you can try at home.

At-Home Training Tips with Dynamic Dogs

Your being at home more might be the best thing that ever happened to your dog, but that will change when we venture out more and maybe go back to work. Our Sit, Stay, NCMA partners at Dynamic Dogs have created tips for keeping you and your best friend happy while being at home together and also for preventing separation anxiety when that time comes.

Paw Print Art Making

Learn how to create a sweet paw print keepsake from salt dough. This simple craft uses materials that can be found at home.

NCMA Collection Challenge

Inspired by the Getty Museum Challenge to re-create works of art using household items, we challenge you to get your pets involved! Here’s an album of inspiration photos featuring our staff’s dogs. Create your own and then share and tag us @ncartmuseum #SitStayNCMA. We’ll pick our favorite three and send you each a special prize.

Frida’s Pets

Did you know that Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera owned xolo dogs? They were seen in some of Kahlo’s paintings in the fall 2019 exhibition Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism, and in the Casa Azul immersive room that took visitors into the couple’s Mexican home. In case you missed it, here is the immersive room we created with OLO Creative Farm. It recently won a GLAMi Award from Museums and the Web.–Felicia Knise Ingram, Manager of Interpretation

Dog Stars

In honor of our Dog Effigy, we encourage you to have a movie night with your pets and watch one or all of these films that feature dogs.–Maria Lopez, Manager of Film and Lecture Programs

 – Best in Show (2000). Director: Christopher Guest. A diverse group of characters competes at a national dog show. This is the film we had planned to screen this summer at Sit, Stay, NCMA. Rent on YouTube, iTunes, or Amazon.

– Isle of Dogs (2018). Director: Wes Anderson. A boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog. This innovative animated film was shown at last year’s Sit, Stay, NCMA. Rent on YouTube or Amazon.

– Coco (2017). Directors: Adrian Molina, Lee Unkrich. A xolo dog named Dante accompanies a boy named Miguel on his journey into the Land of the Dead. Rent on YouTube or Amazon, or watch on Disney+. Also see this short video about xolo dogs and Coco on YouTube.

– Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993). Director: Duwayne Dunham. Family-friendly story of a bulldog, a cat, and a golden retriever who embark on a journey through the wilderness. Rent on YouTube, iTunes, or Amazon, or watch on Disney+.

Family Activities

Make a pinch pot in the shape of a pet, listen to a bilingual podcast, or borrow a book about Aztecs online. Details and more ideas inspired by Dog Effigy at NCMALearn.–Courtney Klemens, Manager of Family Programs, and Emily Perreault, Pre-K Programs Educator

Make an Animal Softie

In this lesson students will learn about the xoloitzcuintli sacred to the Aztec people and make their own animal comfort objects.–Emily Perreault, Pre-K Programs Educator

Reading Recommendation

Heritage of Power: Ancient Sculpture from West Mexico. The Andrall E. Pearson Family Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art contains over 40 figures, which represent all three of the major styles of West Mexican ceramic sculpture, named for the states of Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit. Depictions of animals and birds, such as the well-known xoloitzcuintle dogs, originated primarily in Colima.–Erin Rutherford, NCMA Library Assistant


Do yoga with your dog! This is a fun and peaceful practice that can also deepen the bond with your pet. Join Victoria Haffer, M.S.–mental health coach, yoga therapist, and professional dog trainer–for this short, all-level practice with your pup. Cats might love it, too!

Audio Description

This recording is an audio description of the work of art. Audio description is narration for individuals who are blind or have low vision. It is a means to inform them about visual content essential for comprehension. This description is in both English and Spanish; the Spanish description starts five minutes into the recording.

Music for the Soul’s Journey

While not much is known about Mesoamerican music preceding the culture’s encounter with Europeans, some present-day musicians have imagined what this music might have sounded like, drawing inspiration from visual representations of ancient instruments and drawing from traditional performances by indigenous communities. This playlist features works by Jorge Reyes, a Mexican artist, multi-instrumentalist, and ethnomusicologist; it is  specifically focused on music inspired by myths about the soul’s journey to the underworld.–ngel Gonz¡lez L³pez, GSK Postdoctoral Fellow


May 29, 2020


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