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November 30, 2015

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: Native-Designed Fabrics

255518 lloyd kiva new desert

Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee, 1916–2002), Desert, ca. 1965. Printed cotton fabric, 189.3 x 90 cm. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/5518


When the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) opened in Santa Fe in 1962, the art school offered textile and clothing design courses along with classes in painting, sculpture, photography, music, drama, dance, and creative writing. Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee, 1916–2002), a co-founder of the IAIA, taught a printed textile design course at the school, instructing students in creating silkscreened and hand-dyed fabrics.[1] New began his career in art and design in the 1940s. After graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago and serving in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War, he opened Kiva Studio in 1946 in Scottsdale, Arizona, selling men’s and women’s fashion.[2] New also sold his clothing, accessories, and jewelry throughout the country, including a line to the department store Neiman Marcus.[3] 

In 1966 New exhibited his vibrant silkscreened fabric at the art gallery of the Center for Arts of Indian America in Washington, D.C. The center had been established that year as a nonprofit organization dedicated to “preserving and promoting the visual, literary, and performing arts of American Indians.”[4] The IACB purchased fabric designed by New, which drew inspiration from the American Southwest.[5] The cotton fabric entitled Desert features horizontal variations of ochre, greens, gold, and reds with bleached serrated columns at the top. The Pottery cotton fabric is more representational, with abstracted Pueblo pottery designs in green against a yellow background bordered by rows of brown, green, and gold hues.

255530 lloyd kiva new pottery

Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee, 1916–2002), Pottery, ca. 1965. Printed cotton fabric, 193.5 x 128.2 cm. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/5530


Besides the fabric by New, the IACB Headquarters Collection contains other fabric pieces designed by Native artists. In 1972, the IACB purchased six cuts of differing fabric from Red Rock Tie-Dyeing, Inc., a Navajo-owned company based in Red Rock, on the Navajo Reservation near Gallup, New Mexico. Alice Begay (Diné, 1922–2009) operated Red Rock with her daughter Virginia Belone (Diné). They created their designs—geometric abstractions of clouds, mountains, butterflies, and lizards in contrasting colors—by clamping folded cotton cloth between shaped wooden blocks, then immersing the fabric in dye.[6]

256929 red rock clouds

Alice Begay (Diné, 1922–2009) and Virginia Belone (Diné), Red Rock Tie-Dyeing, Inc., Clouds, 1972. Red Rock, New Mexico. Wood block tie-dyed cotton fabric, 290 x 103 cm. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6929


Another Navajo company, Nizhonie Fabrics, Inc., advertised silkscreened fabric with patterns adapted from Southwestern textiles, pottery, baskets, and petroglyphs. Nizhonie, which means “beautiful” in Navajo, was based in Cortez, Colorado, and run by brothers Frank and Keith Austin. The company produced 20 fabric prints, all silkscreened by hand, on broadcloth, corduroy, and velveteen. Besides overall-printed fabric, Nizhonie offered 10 border prints especially for “draperies, bed spreads, table cloths, furniture covers.”[7] The IACB purchased six pieces of Nizhonie fabric in 1974.

255535 nizhoni mesa rain

Frank Austin (Bahah-Zhonie, Diné, b. 1938) and Keith Austin (Diné), Nizhonie Fabrics, Inc., Mesa Rain, 1974. Cortez, Colorado. Printed linen fabric, 280 x 114.5 cm. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/5535

This sampling of the fabrics in the IACB Headquarters Collection merely touches on the production of Native-designed fabric and clothing in the United States. These textiles illustrate, nevertheless, the innovation and imagination of Native designers who responded to the fashion of the day and infused local and national markets with Native-inspired designs from their cultures and surroundings.

—Anya Montiel

Anya Montiel (Tohono O'odham/Mexican) is a PhD candidate at Yale University and a curatorial research fellow at the National Museum of the American Indian. This post is part of a series Anya is writing on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Headquarters Collection at the museum. 


[1] “Culture-infused Fabrics: Textile and Clothing Course Options at the IAIA,” Institute of American Indian Arts, accessed 16 November 2015, http://www.iaia.edu/museum/exhibitions/online/culture-infused-fabrics-textile-and-clothing-course-options-at-iaia/.

[2] On New's military service: Museum of Contemporary Arts, About the Galleries, web, accessed 23 November 2015, http://www.iaia.edu/museum/about/galleries/. The Kiva Studio operated until 1957. Rose Marie Cutropia, “Lloyd 'Kiva' New: Artist, Educator, and Visionary from the Lloyd H. New Papers in the Archives Collection at the Institute of American Indian Arts,” BA thesis, Institute of American Indian Arts, 2014, web, accessed 17 November 2015, http://www.academia.edu/7165470/Lloyd_Kiva_New_Touching_Native_Inspiration.

[3] “PEM Organizes First Large-scale Traveling Exhibitions of Contemporary Native American Fashion,” Peabody Essex Museum, 20 July 2015, web, accessed 16 November 2015, http://www.pem.org/press/press_release/312-pem_organizes_first_large-scale_traveling_exhibition_of_contemporary_native_american_fashion.

[4] “Announcement: Center for Arts of Indian America,” Vincent Price Papers (MSS 36905), Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington DC.

[5] The IACB purchased three fabric samples from New. Two of the fabric samples are in the IACB Headquarters Collection at the National Museum of the American Indian. The third one, “Sacred Cows,” seems to have been lost and was not transferred to the museum in 2000.

[6] Enid Nemy, "Tie-Dyed Fabrics from the Reservation," The New York Times, 22 February 1971, 20, accessed 23 November 2015, http://nyti.ms/1XajORa.

[7] “Nizhonie Fabrics, Inc.: An Indian Owned Enterprise” (pamphlet), IACB accession file for NMAI 25/5531, 25/5535, 25/5536, 25/5540, 25/5541, and 25/8918, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC.

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