Fig. 1: Tonita Peña, Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, n.d.
Courtesy Museum of New Mexico, Neg. No. 154655

White Women and the Movement to Promote
Pueblo Indian Arts and Crafts, 1900-1935

by Margaret D. Jacobs, ©1998
New Mexico State University

In the first decades of the twentieth century, many white Americans became involved in an effort to promote Indian arts and crafts, particularly in the Southwest and among the Pueblo Indians. Some scholars have placed this effort within the context of the larger arts and crafts movement in Britain and the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Historians have explained this movement as a reaction against industrial production and as a related search for authenticity. Believing that industrialization had produced a mass culture of imitation, destroyed communal bonds, and divested work of its inherent worth, arts and craft movement supporters sought "authentic" objects and experience in preindustrial cultures and modes of production.(2) For all of its insight, this explanation neglects two significant aspects of the Indian arts and crafts movement among the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico -- its gendered nature and its heterogeneity.

Although several men played key roles within it, the Indian arts and crafts movement in New Mexico functioned largely as a women's phenomenon. Many white women claimed credit for initiating what they believed to be a revival of pottery and painting among the Pueblos. They also constituted a large number of the members of the two main organizations concerned with Pueblo Indian art -- the Indian Arts Fund (IAF) and the Arts and Crafts Committee of the New Mexico Association on Indian Affairs (NMAIA). Moreover, white women comprised an estimated 75 to 90 percent of the purchasers of Indian art. Because so much of the movement focused on pottery, a Pueblo women's craft, the promotion of Indian arts among the Pueblos also involved more Indian women than men.

However, white women in the movement did not all share a consensual view of its nature and purpose. Their competing perspectives led to a diverse and contentious movement. Scholars have tended to focus on only one group in the movement -- anti-modernists who sought to revive "high-quality," "traditional" Indian art as a means to insulate the Pueblos from modern America. However, another group of reformers who had long advocated the assimilation of Native Americans into American society also became involved in the movement, conceiving it as a means to "uplift" the Indians out of their supposedly backward and degraded state. By examining these women, it becomes clear that the Indian arts and crafts movement cannot be understood simply as a reaction to modernization. Many white women found in the Indian arts and crafts movement an arena in which to both exert a new source of cultural authority and to shape a new vision of womanhood.







All text Margaret D. Jacobs
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