The Moqui Prayer for Rain

Artist: Hermon Atkins MacNeil (American, Everett, Massachusetts 1866–1947 Queens, New York)

Date: 1895–96; cast ca. 1897

Medium: Bronze

Dimensions: 22 1/4 x 26 x 12 in. (56.5 x 66 x 30.5 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Walter C. Crawford, 1978

Accession Number: 1978.513.6


MacNeil's interest in Native American rituals led him in the summer of 1895 on a modeling expedition into the Far West. He observed the Moqui Indians' annual nine-day prayer for rain celebrated at the top of the mesa at Oraibi, Arizona. It inspired him to make three-dimensional sketches on the spot, probably in wax or clay. For the ceremony, the Moqui used a variety of snakes they had gathered, for to them, as to many Indian tribes, snakes symbolized the lightning that brought rain to their arid climate. At the height of the dance that was the final act of the ritual, the Moqui grabbed the serpents by the handful and ran with them down the trail from the mesa, returning the snakes to the plains so that the prayer for rain could be answered. MacNeil's impression of the ceremony remained so vivid that as soon as he arrived in Italy in 1896 as a Rinehart scholar he began work on this complex study of movement in sculptural form—a dynamic image of a young brave at the climax of the dance, titled The Moqui Prayer for Rain (also known as The Moqui Runner and The Returning of the Snakes).