Among the Pueblos, painting and pottery constituted the major interests of white patrons who, at the turn of the twentieth century, "discovered" and began to commercialize Pueblo arts and crafts. Standard accounts of the Indian arts and crafts movement have emphasized the roles played by J. Walter Fewkes, Edgar Hewett, Kenneth Chapman, and John Collier.(4) Important as these men were, a focus on them has overshadowed white women in the Indian arts and crafts movement. Around 1905, a renegade female teacher at San Ildefonso Day School first encouraged Crescencio Martinez to paint his dance ceremonials. This was almost a decade before Edgar Hewett met Martinez. "Self-taught" painter Tonita Peña told her biographer that she learned to paint when her day school teacher at San Ildefonso, Esther Hoyt, gave her watercolors and encouraged her to paint. Edgar Hewett "discovered" Peña at the day school, and supplied her with paints and paper thereafter. Peña's cousin at Cochiti, Romando Vigil, who also became a renowned artist, first learned to paint in day school from his teacher Elizabeth Robbins.(5) Elizabeth DeHuff, writer and wife of a superintendent of the Santa Fe Indian School, insisted that the "real awakening" of Southwest Indian painting occurred in May, 1918, in her living room. DeHuff brought seven boys from the Santa Fe Indian School to her house in the afternoons to paint. Among them were Fred Kabotie and Otis Polelonema, both Hopi, and Velino Herrera (or Shije) of Zia Pueblo, all of whom both became well-known and respected painters.(6)

Fig. 2: Elizabeth DeHuff, 1932, Photo by Will Connell
Courtesy Museum of New Mexico, Neg. No. 59759

White women seem to have taken an even greater part in promoting Indian pottery. In 1917, Madame Verra von Blumenthal and Rose Dougan from Pasadena arrived at San Ildefonso Pueblo to promote a "better grade of ceramics . . . that could be sold in greater quantity throughout the country."
(7) The original Board of Trustees of the IAF included many women who had developed an interest in the preservation of Indian culture: writers Mary Austin, Mabel Dodge Lujan, Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, and Alice Corbin Henderson; Margaret McKittrick, the chair of the NMAIA and its Arts and Crafts Committee; and Amelia Elizabeth White, head of the Eastern Association on Indian Affairs (EAIA).

Fig. 3: Margaret McKittrick with group of Navajo Indians, ca 1935
Photo by T. Harmon Parkhurst, Courtesy Museum of New Mexico
Neg. No. 3224

Except for Austin, who died in 1934, all these women served for more than twenty years on the IAF Board. White served for forty years. White also opened a store in New York City called ISHAUU to market Indian wares and helped to organize the Exposition of Tribal Arts in the early 1930s.
(8) White women also figured significantly in the Bureau of Indian Affairs' eventual efforts to promote Indian arts. In 1932, the BIA hired Dorothy Dunn to teach Indian art and Mabel Morrow to instruct in Indian crafts at the Santa Fe Indian School. Under Dunn's direction from 1932 to 1937, the Studio of the Santa Fe Indian School became the centerpiece of the John Collier administration's commitment to Indian arts and a model for other Indian schools across the country.(9)

At least two distinct groups of white women took part in the Indian arts and crafts movement. One group favored the preservation of Pueblo culture and art; the other sought the Pueblo's assimilation into modern life. Artists and writers who lived in the Santa Fe and Taos art colonies as well as anthropologists formed the core of the preservationist wing. Influenced by new anthropological theories of cultural relativism and disillusioned by modern American society, these intellectuals extolled the Pueblo Indians who lived in their vicinity as a model society and campaigned to defend Pueblo lands and dances. The Indian arts and crafts movement became a primary means whereby they sought to preserve their image of the ideal Pueblo Indian -- a deeply spiritual, traditional artist who subsumed her individual interests to the good of the community and who lived in harmony with Nature.(10)

In order to insulate the Pueblos from modern American culture, preservationists believed that a dual effort was needed to promote "high-quality" Indian art. First the American public must be steered away from buying cheap tourist items, "the endless array of ash trays, candle sticks, . . . pillow tops, and other atrocities . . . which confront the average traveller in Indian country."
(11) Second, preservationists believed, Pueblo Indians must be instructed in how to make "no modern white forms, no worthless trifles, only dignified pieces in the best traditional style."(12) The Indian Arts Fund hoped to accomplish both these objectives. They sought to collect the "best" specimens of ancient pottery from the pueblos, install them in a museum, and bring Indian women potters to view the collection in order that they might learn the ways of their ancestors. White patrons condescendingly assumed that without white intervention, Pueblo women would never learn or continue the artistry of their ancestors. Similarly, many supporters of Pueblo Indian painting sought to promote what they believed to be the traditional Pueblo style. They demanded that Indian artists confine themselves mainly to painting Indian dances and tried to dictate the style that Indians must use. Elizabeth DeHuff, for example, insisted that in "true Indian art, . . . the figures should not be three-dimensional, but should be painted . . . as they were painted on kiva walls."(13)

Other white women in the movement conceived of its purpose in almost opposite terms. Many of these women had long served in the BIA as schoolteachers and field matrons. They subscribed to the federal government's policy of assimilation through education, suppression of native religion, and individual allotment of communally-held Indian lands. To these women, arts and crafts production could serve to uplift Indian peoples to civilization, rather than to preserve them in their supposedly "backward" state. Female uplifters believed that transforming Indian homes into "Christian" homes constituted the first step on the road to full assimilation. Josephine Richards of the Hampton Normal Institute asserted that encouraging "the beautiful native industries" served as a means, "thru its commercial value, of helping to make the home comfortable and attractive." The ideal home, modeled on the uplifters' notion of the "Christian home," should cultivate "order and purity" and an "atmosphere of uprightness and goodness." Seeking to affect such a transformation in Pueblo homes, in 1925, Clara True, a former BIA schoolteacher and long-time reformer, attempted to uplift Pueblo girls through "reviving" Indian embroidery, a craft Pueblo women had never pursued.

As can be seen by True's efforts, uplifters in the arts and crafts movement were not so much concerned with reviving a "traditional" and "authentic" craft, as they were with supplying Indians with a viable means of "bettering" themselves. In a report for BIA home economics teachers, the author explained that "for place cards, greeting and announcement cards, lamp shades, bedspreads, pillows, book covers, and in countless other ways the Indian designs may be used to give pleasure to . . . girls and their friends and to . . . make a contribution to the cultural life of the Indian child."
(15) Obviously, this vision of Indian arts and crafts differed markedly from that of preservationists, who regarded these items as "atrocities." This belief in marketing Indian ethnicity as a means to uplift Indians constituted a radical departure from the first decades of government assimilation policy. In the late 19th century, the BIA and reformers condemned the participation of Indians in tourist ventures such as Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, believing that the commercialization of Indian ethnicity reinforced Indian "savagery" and prevented assimilation.(16) In the 1920s, however, assimilationists hoped that marketing Indian ethnicity could accomplish their aims. Given their opposing views on the purpose of promoting arts and crafts, preservationists and uplifters in the Indian arts and crafts movement often clashed with one another. This was apparent in 1933 at the Indian Fair in Shiprock, New Mexico, at which the preservationists' Southwest Indian Fair Committee appointed one judge and the BIA designated the other. A report on the fair from the Southwest Committee expressed disgust that "the first prize for a native wool pillow top was given to a realistic reproduction of Shiprock with the words 'Shiprock, N.M. 1933.'"(17)


All text Margaret D. Jacobs