August 22, 2016

"The heart of what we do." An Interview with Collections Manager Gail Joice

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has two public facilities, the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. A third facility, the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland, is home for the museum’s collections. This post, the fourth and final in a series of interviews of staff members who work at the CRC, looks at the career of a collections manager.

Also in this series: Becoming a ConservatorLogisitics and Detail: Museum Registration, and Perspectives on Museum Archives


Please describe your background and why you went into museum work.

My academic career began as a studio art major at the University of Washington in Seattle. After two years, I realized that I objectively couldn’t see myself making a living as an artist. Even within my program, there were so many better artists, and I didn’t have the fire in my belly to really starve for my art! Thinking about other professional options, I realized how interesting I had found my art history courses.

During this time, I held a couple of volunteer positions at museums near the university. The university’s Henry Art Gallery had an archival collection for Northwest artists, which I worked on by interviewing local gallery owners who knew the local artists’ histories well. It was during this work that I began to think about a museum career.

I went on to get my master’s degree in Art History at U. C.-Berkeley. During my undergraduate degree, I developed an interest in Gothic and medieval architecture and decorative arts, which is the topic I pursued in my MA. During this time, I also volunteered with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and took a Berkeley graduate course that involved writing exhibition catalog text for the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum, also in San Francisco. Before graduation, I was looking at the College Art Association’s job postings and saw that there was only one medieval art history position in the entire U.S. that year, and it was in Little Rock, Arkansas. Nothing against Little Rock, but it just wasn’t for me! It was during this time—while I was also being encouraged to complete Berkeley’s average nine-year PhD—that I realized what an interesting art historical culture existed outside of academia, in museums.

At that point, I was really looking to build a career in the museum field and began by getting an internship. I applied to a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) internship in Washington, D.C., and had an amazing opportunity working with the Museum Program for four months to look at many different museum grants and programs.

When I was on the phone with someone at Berkeley about my NEA internship, she mentioned that the Berkeley University Art Museum had an opening for an assistant registrar. In an amazing case of serendipity, that was my first museum job.

Berkeley’s staff was very small, so their registration department also acted as a collections management department. While I was there, I worked with rights and reproductions, the Asian art collections, storage facilities, condition reports, and object handling. I spent a lot of time working hands-on with the collections, which I found incredibly satisfying.

Why the National Museum of the American Indian? And why Collections Management?

When the head registrar’s position opened up at the Seattle Museum, I applied and ended up staying there for 25 years! There, medieval art began to take a backseat, and I instead became interested in Asian, particularly Japanese, art, which I still love. 

Joice photo
Gail Joice, supervisory collections manager at the National Museum of the American Indian.

In 1991, the museum accessioned an important collection of Northwest Coast Native objects. With this acquisition, we began a lengthy consultation process, where we spoke with Tlingit elders about their traditional knowledge, which I found immensely rewarding and inspiring. Although I wasn’t raised in any traditional ways, I have Cherokee heritage on my mother’s side. I grew up with Miwok–Paiute and Pomo friends in Yosemite National Park, California, where I was born, and one of them, Lucy Parker, is now a famous California basket-maker. This background helped me realize that I wanted to be involved at the very beginning in the opening of the new “Native Place” on the National Mall. It was starting a second career for me, after 25 years at the Seattle Art Museum, and I’m so glad that I did! 

Describe your average workday.
I’ve recently transitioned from working at the museum on the Mall as collections manager to working full time at the CRC as supervisory collections manager. Objects move back and forth between the buildings frequently, and the majority of my hands-on object work at the museum on the Mall took place during exhibition installations or providing gallery object care. At the CRC we are fortunate to have the connection with the people whose ancestors made the objects, with Native artists, with researchers who are working with the collections and young Native people who are considering museum careers as NMAI interns.

What has always drawn me to the CRC is the fact that this place is the heart of what we do. I’m an objects person and I always have been one, but the additional pleasure here is learning from all the constituents that come in. One of my favorite things is working with tribal elders in the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices program.

I’m lucky to have a nice mix. I’m an administrator who supervises two collections managers (at the museums in D.C. and New York) and four collections specialists. I work with the collections, and I also work with colleagues in other departments. My new position at the CRC involves being concerned with the environment of the building, which is critical to collections care. Because of this, I have begun a CRC HVAC working group with staff from conservation, collections, facilities, archives, photo services, and the library communicating about environmental problem-solving in the building.

But, like most other people, I still spend at least 25 percent of my day at a computer!

If you had to pick, what is your favorite object in the collections?

California basketry holds a special place in my heart. As I mentioned, I grew up with Miwok–Paiute and Pomo weavers living in Yosemite. Basket weaving is especially important to me, as it is a woman’s craft, a spiritual activity, and it is very difficult to do! Our aisle of California baskets here at NMAI is one of my favorite places to take tours.

26–2688

26–2687

 

Above: Julia Parker (Kashaya Pomo, Coast Miwok; b. 1929), miniature basket with cover. Julia's daughter Lucy—a renowned basket-maker in her own right—is a childhood friend of Gail's. Yosemite National Park, Mariposa County, California; 2003. Sedge root, willow, glass beads; diam 4.5 cm. (26/2688) NMAI Photo Services
Right: Lucy Parker (Yosemite Paiute, Coast Miwok, Mono Lake Paiute, Kashaya Pomo; b. 1953), work tray. Lee Vining, California; 2003. Willow; diam 62 cm. (26/2687) NMAI Photo Services

 

Could you give a piece of advice to readers who might be aspiring museum professionals?

I really think that getting an internship in a museum is the best advice I can give. Internships get you deeper inside of an institution than you would get through a volunteer position. My internship with the National Endowment for the Arts really kick-started this career, and the same goes for the interns I supervise now. My first intern at NMAI in 2004 is now the director of her tribal museum! I’ve had an intern who is now a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and another who works with her tribal community cultural center. It is inspiring to see the new generation of museum collections professionals develop.

Thank you.

—Lillia McEnaney, NMAI


Lillia McEnaney is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology and Religious Studies at Hamilton College; she will graduate in spring 2017. Lillia is a research assistant for Hamilton’s Religious Studies Department, the blog intern for the Council for Museum Anthropology, the webmaster for Art/Place Gallery, a content contributor for Center for Art Law, and an intern for SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone. She is a summer collections management intern at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resources Center.

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August 05, 2016

"A huge amount of logistical and detail work!" An Interview with Museum Registration Specialist Allison Dixon

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has two public facilities—the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. A third facility—the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland—is home for the museum’s collections. This interview, the second in a series of conversations with staff members who work at the CRC, explores museum registration.

Also in this series: Becoming a Conservator and Perspectives on Museum Archives.


What’s your background? Why did you go into museum work?

I really got interested in this field because I’ve always loved history. My parents had an RV when I was growing up, and we would drive up and down the East Coast during the summers visiting all the historical sites we could. I think those trips really fostered my love for history.

I went on to get my bachelor’s degree in Historic Preservation at the University of Mary Washington. I thought that sounded more practical than a history degree, although I’m not sure if you can say that any degree in the cultural arts is “practical.” Anyway, I then got my master’s in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins.

Before I came to the museum, I worked as a National Park Service ranger in Maryland and then moved on to being a museum technician for the Park Service, where I managed the collections of the memorials and monuments on the National Mall in D.C. I’ve been at NMAI for a little over two years now. It’s been fun.

Why the National Museum of the American Indian? Why the Office of the Registrar?

I’ve always been really interested in the role of a museum as a place for advocacy. A lot of the times we think about that term as the Civil Rights Museum, the Holocaust Museum—clear centers of social change. I didn’t realize that about NMAI until I got here. This museum was built as a place for advocacy and as a place that would mean something to Native communities, which I really enjoy even though my background is in museum management not Native Studies.

Though my degrees have been more focused on museum education rather than on registration, my work experience has always been in collections management and cultural resource management. This experience built me up towards registration at the Smithsonian. This is the first position I’ve had that was 100 percent registration all the time, as my previous positions were more diverse. But registration had always been a portion of the type of work I’ve done. I really enjoy registration—it’s a huge amount of logistical and detail work. You need the right personality!

What does your average workday look like?

It’s always really different. Right now I’m the registrar for a couple of different exhibits—Nation to NationInfinity of Nations—and I worked with Glittering World until its recent closure. I follow a lot of projects through the approval process, deal with a huge amount of email communications, and there is a lot of “hurry up and wait!”

I also handle “registration problems.” These come up when the objects and the information about them don’t correlate. This is where my professional sleuthing skills come in handy! It may take some time, but we can usually resolve the problem and correct the data.

Other than that, the majority of my job is actually collections inventory. Most years NMAI does a large inventory with a random sample of about 5,400 collections. We do this to make sure that our accountability and tracking systems work. Can we find what we think we have, where we think it is, in the condition we think it’s in? Also this year we are doing a few smaller project inventories to fix the little snafus in the collection. I’m working on this with my intern, Cassandra Kist from the Alberta-Smithsonian Intern Program.

Pomo basket 24:2135
Pomo basket, AD 1900–1930. California. Willow, sedge root, mallard duck feathers, red-winged blackbird feathers, yellow grosbeak feathers, quail feathers, shell beads, cordage. 12 x 3.5 cm. Photo by Walter Larrimore, NMAI. (24/2135)

If you had to pick, what is your favorite object in the collections?

I think my favorite collection is the Pomo baskets from California. They’re so brightly colored, and the weaving and beading is so intricate. There are quail topknots on each basket—feathers from dozens of quails on each one of those baskets. After my final interview here, I was taken around on a tour of the collections, and when we got to those baskets, I was like, “I’m in!”

Could you give a piece of advice to readers who might be aspiring museum professionals?

Do a lot of internships in a lot of different fields. I think a lot of students think they want to be a curator because it’s the only job title they’ve ever heard of. Think about interning in registration, exhibition design, education, collections management, or archives. Apply for any job that you see; it’s a competitive field, and there are always a lot of eager young graduate students. Apply, apply, apply!

And yes, there are paid internships out there! You can make a living doing this work. Last, find someone who knows how to navigate the USAJobs website so you can successfully sift through the application process at the Smithsonian!

Thank you.

-Lillia McEnaney, NMAI

Lillia McEnaney is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology and Religious Studies at Hamilton College; she will graduate in spring 2017. Lillia is a research assistant for Hamilton’s Religious Studies Department, the blog intern for the Council for Museum Anthropology, the webmaster for Art/Place Gallery, a content contributor for Center for Art Law, and an intern for SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone. She is a summer collections management intern at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resources Center.

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December 17, 2015

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: The Seeganna Family

Ninety-five miles west of Nome, Alaska, in the Bering Sea is King Island, home to a group of Inupiat known as Ugiuvangmiut or King Islanders.[1] In the 1900s economic opportunities on the mainland drew many island residents to Nome. Ugiuvangmiut would winter on the island to hunt walrus and seal and leave for the mainland in the summertime to fish and sell arts and crafts to tourists. In 1959 the Bureau of Indian Affairs closed the only school on King Island for fear of a rock slide.[2] Afterwards more Ugiuvangmiut moved to Nome but maintained seasonal residences on the island. Today King Island is considered uninhabited, but the community is recognized as a distinct Alaska Native village corporation with 206 shareholders.[3]

256097 Standing Walrus
Louis Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, 1916–74), Standing Walrus. 1968. Driftwood, baleen, ivory; 35 x 10 cm. Acquired by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives when the artist was employed as an IACB arts and crafts assistant at Sitka, Alaska. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6097

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) Headquarters Collection features 63 artworks by members of the Seeganna family, who are Ugiuvangmiut. Although known primarily as carvers, members of the Seeganna family have worked in a variety of media, including woodcut prints, jewelry, and metalwork, as well as ivory and wood sculpture. Some of the Seeganna family worked for the IACB in Alaska, and others participated in regional Native artist cooperatives. The Headquarters Collection includes works by Louis Seeganna (1916–74) and his sons—Bellarmine, Peter, Richard, and Stanley.

Louis Seeganna and his wife Margaret (1914–99), an Inupiaq originally from Big Diomede, in the Bering Strait, raised eight children on King Island and in Nome.[4] Along with hunting and fishing, Louis created carvings in ivory and wood. In 1969 the IACB purchased Standing Walrus [25/6097] by Louis. Carved of driftwood with inlaid baleen and attached ivory tusks, the figurine stands nearly 14 inches on a circular base. The IACB received Standing Walrus from a lot of artworks made at the Sitka Demonstration Workshop.[5] The IACB had established a demonstration workshop at Sitka, Alaska, in 1962; in 1965, the workshop was moved to a more permanent facility as part of the National Park Service Visitor Center at the Sitka National Monument.[6] The workshop employed artists to conduct demonstrations for visitors and to train other Native artists. The facility made its carving, metalwork, and block printing equipment available to Native artists, including those not employed by the IACB.

As a teenager, the youngest son, Bellarmine Seeganna (1953–2002), created a woodcut print entitled Walrus during a printmaking workshop at the Native artist cooperative Sunarit Associates, Inc., in Nome in October 1969. Walrus depicts a walrus with its head above the water staring at another walrus on a nearby ice floe. Stanley Seeganna (b. 1950) also created a woodcut print at Sunarit during the same workshop. In black and brown inks, Amgnak features a woman’s face surrounded by a ring of fur from her parka.

259512 Amgnak 259547 Walrus

Above: Bellarmine Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq,1953–2002), Walrus. Nome, 1969. Paper, ink; 28.3 x 62 cm. Purchased by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives from Sunarit Associates, Inc., Nome, Alaska. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/9547. Right: Stanley Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, b. 1950), Amgnak. Paper, ink; 53.7 x 36.4 cm. Purchased by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives from Sunarit Associates, Inc., Nome, Alaska. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/9512
 

255874 Land Claims Dance
Richard Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, b. 1949), Land Claims Dance. Fairbanks, 1973. Teak, mahogany; 25.2 x 18.5 x 40.5 cm. Purchased by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives from the Anchorage Museum of History and Art museum shop. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/5874

In 1973 Richard Seeganna (b. 1949) carved the sculpture Land Claims Dance of teak wood on a mahogany base at the Extension Center for Arts and Crafts at the University of Alaska, a partnership between the IACB and the university offering training and resources to advanced Native artists. Land Claims Dance portrays an upright dancer with one foot and arm raised in celebration of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971. ANCSA is a monumental piece of legislation whereby the members of Congress and President Richard Nixon agreed to compensate Native Alaskans for unsettled land claims.[7] Native Alaskans received title to more than 44 million acres of land and financial compensation to be divided amongst 220 Native villages and 12 regional corporations in exchange for relinquishing title to other land.[8] When the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, the indigenous people never relinquished claim to the land. Although the act has been both criticized and venerated, the sculpture exhibits a moment of joy for Alaska Natives upon reaching a settlement after many years of civil protests, legal debates, and congressional hearings.

The largest number of Seeganna family artworks in the IACB Headquarters Collection—55—are by the eldest son, Peter John Seeganna (1938–74). Born in Nome, Peter was raised on King Island and would return throughout his lifetime. He was an expert ice hunter, knowledgeable about Inupiat ways of life and fluent in Iñupiaq. At the age of 23, Peter left Alaska for Oakland, California, and worked as a laborer.[9] In 1964 he moved to Sitka to begin work as an arts and crafts assistant at the demonstration workshop. The following year he married Rebecca Mezenna (?–1983), and the couple had four children—Eugene (b. 1966), Anthony (b. 1968), Frederick (b. 1970), and Mark (b. 1971).

256804 starfish pin
Peter John Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, 1938–74), starfish pin. Sitka, ca. 1964. Jade , metal jewelry findings; 4.8 x 1 cm. Purchased in 1964 from the artist by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives while he was employed during IACB arts and crafts demonstration at Sitka. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6804

Peter was a prolific artist who became adept at working with a variety of materials and in different styles. He had no formal artistic training except for his father’s instruction in carving.[10] In February 1964 George Fedoroff, the IACB supervisor for arts and crafts in Alaska, wrote to Paul Tiulana (1921–94), King Island artist and culture bearer, that Peter had made great progress in Sitka: “He is learning quite rapidly, and already mastered the use of all the power tools. . . . In March Peter will enter some of his work in the annual Alaskan Arts and Crafts Exhibition in Juneau.”[11] Fedoroff mailed Peter’s first jade carving, an exquisite starfish pin in dark jade to the IACB.

Two months later Myles Libhart, the IACB supervisory staff curator, wrote to Fedoroff about a sculpture by Peter depicting King Island drummers and dancers in ivory on a stone base. Libhart remarked that, “this is such a stunning piece that we may keep both [versions] if we may, so that if one dance group is out on loan we will have an example in the Central Office.”[12] Fedoroff indicated that Peter received no assistance, and the IACB headquarters office purchased both sculptures. 

Raven and men 259853 Raven and men 259855

Peter John Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, 1938–74), King Island dancers and drummer (two interpretations). Sitka, ca. 1964. Ivory, paint, stone; 15.2 x 14.2 x 8.2 cm and 18.7 x 14 x 7.7 cm. Purchased in 1964 from the artist by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives while he was employed during IACB arts and crafts demonstration at Sitka. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/9853 and 25/9855 

256970 Polar bear
Peter John Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, 1938–74), polar bear. Sitka, 1964–66. Alder, 18.7 x 7.5 x 12 cm. Acquired by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives between 1964 and 1966 when the artist was employed as an IACB arts and crafts assistant at Sitka. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6970

In September 1965 the IACB purchased 18 items of silver, jade, and wood by Peter created during his Sitka employment. By November, Peter had 12 more items for the IACB including jewelry and carvings. In 1969, the Sitka workshop submitted 28 items to the Headquarters Collection, including a gracefully abstracted polar bear carved of alder wood.

In 1968 Peter moved back to King Island and Nome and continued to work as an IACB arts and crafts assistant. He was elected president of the King Island Village Council and served on the Nome School Board as well.[13] Peter relocated to Anchorage in 1973; he continued his employment with the IACB and worked as the special assistant to the director of the Visual Arts Center of Alaska.

Along with creating art, Peter was vocal about issues in Native art. Carl Heinmiller, founder of Alaska Indian Arts, Inc. in Port Chilkoot, wrote to the Native Alaskan newspaper Tundra Times in 1967 about his perception of the priorities of the IACB.[14] Heinmiller felt that the IACB had shifted its attention to contemporary art, thereby eschewing traditional art forms; the IACB should establish two separate divisions, “fine arts and primitive arts,” or he remarked, “the fine Native craftsman will become a thing of the past.”[15] Peter, along with fellow artist Joseph Senungetuk (Inupiaq, b. 1940), responded, “Many of our contemporary ideas stem from the traditional forms. We are not inclined to be mere copyists, but favor individual creativity.”[16] They continued, “We intend to broaden our experiences and perhaps develop new forms which may or may not identify us with a specific ethnic group—it is our choice and not Mr. Heinmiller’s or others’ who seem to want to keep us as ‘display pieces’ under the guise of ‘economic development.’”[17] Their views were not unique; Seeganna and Senungetuk voiced opinions felt by many Native artists. Tourists regularly traveled to Alaska and boosted the economy through purchases of Native art. Sometimes artists were instructed to create works directly for the tourist market.

259275 last sculpture
Peter John Seeganna (Ugiuvangmiut Inupiaq, 1938–74), sculpture. Anchorage, 1973–74. Teak, 18.2 x 15.9 x 30 cm. Made while the artist worked at the Visual Arts Center of Alaska; formerly in the collection of George Fedoroff (1906–2001), an IACB sculpture instructor; purchased from Mr. Fedoroff in 1976 by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/9275

Peter passed away suddenly at the age of 35 during a spring hunting trip to Nome. Due to a childhood disease, Peter had a weakened heart, but he would not allow himself to forfeit Inupiat hunting and fishing activities. In the catalog for his retrospective exhibition at the Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum in 1975, Senungetuk remembered, “I went on many hunting and fishing trips with him where he refused to acknowledge his weak heart if it meant denying himself his love of the outdoors.”[18] Senungetuk also commented on Peter’s tireless desire to help his people politically, socially, and culturally. The IACB purchased Peter's last sculpture, an abstracted form in teak wood, in 1976. In his request letter to Fedoroff, Libhart remarked that it was an innovative work and “a critical piece in presenting Peter’s development as a sculptor.”[19]

The 63 artworks by the Seeganna family in the Headquarters Collection illustrate artistic movements in Alaska after the Second World War. Federal agencies, independent businesses, and artist cooperatives bloomed throughout Alaska and offered training and resources in multiple art forms, including lapidary work and printmaking. The Seeganna family possessed an expertise in ivory and wood carving, but also ventured into woodcut prints and metalwork. In their work, they conveyed their love of the Alaskan people and environment in every possible medium.

—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] Inupiaq refers to one person, and Inupiat is the plural form referring to people. For more information, see https://www.uaf.edu/anlc/languages/i/.

[2] Alice Rogoff, “King Island: Living Community and Mystical Place,” Alaska Daily Dispatch, 1 November 2011, web, accessed 10 December 2015, http://www.adn.com/article/king-island-living-community-and-mystical-place.

[3] “Communities of the Bering Strait,” Kawerak, Inc., 2012, web, accessed 5 December 2015, http://www.kawerak.org/communities/kingisland.html.

[4] Louis and Margaret Seeganna's four daughters are Theresa (1944–2002), Stella (1952–2013), Rosemary (1956–2014), and Gertrude.

[5] When a shipment of art arrived, the IACB would select some pieces for its collection and have others sold at the Indian Craft Shop.

[6] United States Department of the Interior Indian Arts and Crafts Board, “Sitka Demonstration-Workshop,” Smoke Signals: Alaska, no. 50–51 (Fall–Winter 1966): 6.

[7] For more information about the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, see http://nana.com/regional/about-us/our-history/ansca/.

[8] John F. Walsh, “Settling the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act,” Stanford Law Review 38, no. 1 (November 1985): 227.

[9] “Peter J. Seeganna,” Peter J. Seeganna: An Artist, Anchorage AK: Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum, 1975.

[10] George Fedoroff, IACB supervisor for arts and crafts of Alaska, “Temporary Catalogue Information for Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection,” IACB accession file for NMAI 25/7102, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC.

[11] George Fedoroff, IACB supervisor for arts and crafts of Alaska, to Paul Tiulana, letter, 29 February 1964, IACB accession file for NMAI 25/6724 and 26/0633, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC.

[12] Myles Libhart, IACB supervisory staff curator, to George Fedoroff, IACB supervisor of arts and crafts of Alaska, letter, 24 April 1964, IACB documentation for accession file for NMAI 25/9855, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC.

[13] "Peter J. Seeganna," in Peter J. Seeganna: An Artist, Anchorage AK: Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum, 1975.

[14] Heinmiller was a non-Native person from Cleveland, Ohio, who moved to Alaska after the Second World War. He founded and operated Alaska Indian Arts, Inc., which featured the arts and dances of the North Pacific Coast. For more information about Heinmiller, see Daniel Henry’s “Chilkoot Beachhead: Carl Heinmiller and the Northern Tlingit Arts Revival” at  http://www.sheldonmuseum.org/Daniel_Henry/dh_chilkoot_beachhead_and_notes_DRAFT_12_2013.pdf

[15] Carl W. Heinmiller, “Letters to the Editor,” Tundra Times 4, no. 54 (13 January 1967).

[16] Joseph E. Senungetuk and Peter J. Seeganna, “Letters to the Editor,” Tundra Times 4, no. 55 (20 January 1967).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Joseph E. Senungetuk, “His Life,” in Peter J. Seeganna: An Artist, Anchorage AK: Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum, 1975.

[19] Myles Libhart, IACB director of museums, exhibitions, and publications, to George Fedoroff, letter, 1 July 1976, IACB accession file for NMAI 25/9275, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC.

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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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November 10, 2015

The Indian Arts & Crafts Board: Otellie Loloma

Cast in bronze and resting on a marble base, Hopi-Hoya by Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93) won two awards at the Second Scottsdale National Indian Arts Exhibition in 1963—first prize in sculpture and wood carving and the Charles de Young Elkus Memorial Award for “the most outstanding piece of Indian arts and crafts which is new in material, technique, or design.”[1] 

261879 loloma hopi-hoya
Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93), Hopi–Hoya, 1963. Arizona. Cast bronze on a marble base; 47.7 x 11.7 x 10.1 cm. Purchased from the artist in 1963 by representatives of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 26/1879

The juried competition received 372 entries that year, and the exhibition's chair, Paul Huldermann, noted that a number of artworks reflected new styles and techniques.[2] Hopi-Hoya, which was purchased directly from the artist by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, depicts a Hopi child with long hair leaning forward with arms crossed behind its back. Later that year, Loloma entered three bronze sculptures and one clay figure into the juried Indian Annual exhibition at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Muowi (Young Bride), Loloma's terra cotta of a Hopi bride draped in a cotton wedding robe, won first place in the sculpture category. The Philbrook purchased the work for its permanent collection.[3]

Otellie Pasiyava was born in 1921 at Second Mesa on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. As a child she created “doll-like sculptures out of clay” while spending time with her grandmother.[4] In about 1942 she married the painter Charles Loloma (Hopi, 1921–91), who later became a celebrated jewelry artist. Otellie Loloma began formal training in ceramics in 1947 after she received a scholarship and Charles used the G.I. Bill to study at the new School for American Craftsmen, then part of Alfred University in western New York.[5] After finishing the two-year program, the couple returned to Arizona and in 1956 opened a pottery shop in Scottsdale where they marketed a line of ceramic dishes called Lolomaware.[6]

In 1959 Otellie Loloma became one of the first instructors for the Southwestern Indian Art Project at the University of Arizona at Tucson. That project led in 1962 to the establishment of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, where Loloma was again one of the first faculty members hired. She instructed students in ceramics and painting and occasionally taught dance with textile artist Josephine Myers Wapp (Comanche, 1912–2014).[7] 

Jacquie Stevens (Winnebago, b. 1949), a ceramicist who is well known for her large, asymmetrical vessels, calls Loloma a mentor. Stevens enrolled at the IAIA as a museum studies student until a ceramics course from Loloma changed the direction of her education. She reflects:

It must have been fate that made me take a class taught by Otellie. It was like I returned home; clay became my expression. Otellie taught me that each pot has its own life, personality, character, and form—and that is what set me free. Pottery is like people, every one is different and not perfect. I thought about this and decided it was an important idea. So I developed a new way, an unconventional way, of looking at form.[8]  

Two ceramic artworks by Loloma are represented in the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Headquarters Collection, both purchased in 1965.[9] Her figurative sculpture Desert Bird is both wheel-thrown and hand-built of stoneware. The sculpture is delightfully textural with marks from Loloma's fingers and palms forming the bird’s feathers and wings. She finished the piece by stringing clay and glass beads to its feathers. The other ceramic work, a cylindrical vase of glazed stoneware, was thrown on a wheel. Loloma then incised abstracted figures of people, plants, and rain clouds around the exterior.

259286 loloma—bird


Left: Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93), Desert Bird, 1965. Arizona. Stoneware; glass, shell, and stone beads; twine; 31.5 x 22.9 x 26.1 cm. NMAI 25/9286. Below: Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93), vase, 1964. Santa Fe, New Mexico. Incised, glazed stoneware, 16.9 x 15.7 cm. NMAI 25/9245.

259245 loloma

Both: Purchased in 1965 by representatives of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board  from the Department of the Interior Indian Craft Shop, Washington, D.C. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.


While she acknowledged that Hopi cosmology influenced her work, Loloma revealed that “no one Hopi [person] would probably recognize that they are Hopi figures because I have done it all from my own imagination.”[10] Hopi stories provided inspiration for her work but never sources for duplication. Loloma felt at ease using several ceramic techniques and materials. During a 1968 exhibition of her work in Washington, D.C., actor and art collector Vincent Price noted that Loloma created “beautifully realized sculptures [that reflect] a great awareness of the techniques at her disposal today.”[11] 

A member of the IAIA faculty until her retirement in 1988, Loloma taught generations of Native American artists. Students of Loloma's whose work can be seen in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian include Peter B. Jones (Onondaga/Seneca, b. 1947), Dan Namingha (Hopi–Tewa, b. 1950), and Robert Tenorio (Santo Domingo, b. 1950). 

After her passing, fellow artist and IAIA instructor James McGrath dedicated a poem to Loloma, one verse of which reads,

I think of her pots,
    of the fullness inside 
    where treasures are held, 
    secure and loved in their silence.[12]

—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] “Prizes and Awards,” Second Scottsdale National Indian Arts Exhibition (Scottsdale AZ: Executive House, 1963), 3. The memorial award is named for Charles de Young Elkus (1881–1963), a San Francisco lawyer who was a Native rights advocate and a collector of Native arts.

[2] Ibid, 2.

[3] Christina Burke, curator of Native American and non-Western art, Philbrook Museum of Art, email conversation with Anya Montiel, 5 November 2015.

[4] Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, “Women of Cedar, Sweetgrass, and Sage,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 15, no. 1/2 (Spring–Summer 1987), 41.

[5] Later Otellie Loloma also attended Northern Arizona University and the College of Santa Fe.

[6] The couple divorced in 1965.

[7] Loloma and Wapp performed at the White House and at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City with students from the IAIA.

[8] Susan Peterson, “The Legacy of Generations: Pottery by Contemporary American Indian Women,” in Women Artists of the American West, Susan R. Ressler ed. (Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company, 2003), 110.

[9] The National Museum of the American Indian has another work by Loloma in the collection, a watercolor painting that was donated by Charles and Ruth Elkus in the 1950s.

[10] Smith, 41.

[11] Vincent Price, “Introduction,” Three from Santa Fe (Washington DC: Center for Arts of Indian America, 1968).

[12] James McGrath, “A Song for Otellie,” At the Edgelessness of Light: Poems (Santa Fe NM: Sunstone Press, 2005), 38.

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