Painting the Native World: Life, Land, and Animals
In the early twentieth century, Native American artists began exploring artistic practices outside their utilitarian and ceremonial crafts. Having been recently introduced to Anglo-American media—pencil, ink, and watercolor—Native artists gravitated to the expressive quality of painting and drawing. The Native American Fine Art movement emerged, characterized by flattened compositions, bold outlines, and a narrative style similar to that found in traditional Indian pottery. From scenes of everyday life to depictions of nature, the works created by these artists became a valuable tool for the preservation of Native American traditions and philosophies.
A major force in shaping the Native American Fine Art movement was The Studio at the Santa Fe Indian School, established in 1932 by noted educator Dorothy Dunn. While most Indian schools of the time suppressed indigenous cultural practices—supposedly to foster assimilation of the students into white America—Dunn's philosophy ran the opposite way. She abandoned European models and, despite resistance from the educational establishment, encouraged her art students to embrace "traditional modernism"--a synthesis of ancient American Indian and contemporaneous forms. With renewed cultural pride, many of Dunn's students went on to become renowned artists who worked in the "Studio style."
Featuring more than fifty works from the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe, Painting the Native World: Life, Land, and Animals showcases the graceful, innovative work from this exceptional period in Native American art. Valerie K. Verzuh explores the development of the Native American Fine Art movement, while Antonio R. Chavarria provides an overview of the main themes found in these works—ceremonial life, daily life, and animals.
About the Authors
Valerie K. Verzuh, an anthropology graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, has studied and cared for Native American artifacts for the past twenty years, first at the Oakland Museum of California, and since 2000 at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As curator of the Individually Cataloged Collections, she has worked to increase understanding of Southwest American Indian material culture and accessibility to the museum's holdings for artists, scholars, and community members.
Antonio R. Chavarria is curator of ethnology at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology. A graduate of the University of Colorado at Denver, he is an active member of the American Anthropological Association and has served as a board member for the Council for Museum Anthropology.
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