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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October 29, 2015

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: For Halloween, a Spooktacular Navajo Rug

Over the years, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) purchased several pieces for its Headquarters Collection from the Indian Craft Shop, a retail store that opened in 1938 within the new Department of the Interior Building in Washington, D.C. Created at the request of Secretary Harold Ickes[1] and still located in the original salesrooms decorated with murals painted by Allan Houser (1914–94, Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache) and Gerald Nailor (1917–52, Diné), the Indian Craft Shop continues to promote the work of American Indian and Alaska Native artists. 

255960 Elizabeth Begay


Elizabeth Begay (Diné, b. 1969), miniature pictorial rug, ca. 1985. Sawmill Chapter, Navajo Nation, near Sawmill, Arizona. Wool, 14 x 11 cm. Purchased in 1986 by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board from the Indian Craft Shop in Washington, D.C. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/5960


On March 18, 1986, the IACB purchased 11 pieces from the Indian Craft Shop, including this miniature Halloween rug by Elizabeth Begay (Diné). Measuring smaller than 6 by 5 inches, the rug shows a trick-or-treating scene. Baskets in hand, children dressed as a ghost, witch, and pumpkin-man approach a house and hogan to ask for candy. Along with haystacks in front of the hogan, Begay wove a black cat and jack-o’-lantern perched on the fence in the foreground and framed the entire composition with a brown serrated border.

Begay lives near Sawmill, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, where she and her mother, Nellie Tsosie, specialize in miniature, pictorial, classic revival, and third-phase chief's rugs.[2] This weaving is both a miniature and a pictorial rug. Since the mid-to-late 19th century, Navajo weavers have depicted animals, people, landscapes, reservation scenes, and images from popular culture in their work.[3] Known as pictorial rugs, these weavings quickly became popular among collectors and tourists, but that should not overshadow the weavers’ creativity and pleasure in innovation expressed through the form. As scholar Susan Brown McGreevy explains, “Navajo pictorial weavings provide a visual record of continuity and change in Navajo life, and an affirmation of Navajo imagination, humor, and artistic vision.”[4] 

At the same time that it purchased Elizabeth Begay's Halloween rug, the IACB bought a Christmas-themed rug by her mother. Framed with a gray border, Nellie Tsosie's rug depicts a couple, standing on boxes, trimming a large tree outside their house, with presents placed in a row underneath the tree.

255964 Nellie Tsosie

Nellie Tsosie (Diné), miniature pictorial rug, ca. 1985. Sawmill Chapter, Navajo Nation, near Sawmill, Arizona. Wool, 16.5 x 13.3 cm. Purchased in 1986 by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board from the Indian Craft Shop in Washington, D.C. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/5964

“The pictorial tradition is born out of narrative," Navajo weaver Marlowe Katoney says. "It both records and demonstrates the confluences of Western influence on Navajo tradition.”[5]  These pictorial rugs, and others by Begay and Tsosie in the IACB Collection, are wonderful illustrations of that cultural interplay.   

—Anya Montiel

Photos by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI

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] David W. Look and Carole L. Perrault, The Interior Building: Its Architecture and Its Art (Washington DC: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, Preservation Assistance Division, 1986), 16.

[2] Gregory Schaaf, American Indian Textiles: 2,000 Artist Biographies, c. 1800–Present (Santa Fe NM: CIAC Press, 2001), 47.

[3] Schaaf, 26.

[4] Susan Brown McGreevy, “The Image Weavers: Contemporary Navajo Pictorial Textiles,” American Indian Art Magazine 19, no. 4 (Autumn 1994): 50.

[5] Marlowe Katoney, email conversation with Anya Montiel, 25 October 2015. 

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October 23, 2015

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: Stockbridge–Munsee Arts and Crafts Enterprise

In the 1960s, the Stockbridge–Munsee Community of Wisconsin worked with instructors at the University of Wisconsin Art Education Extension to develop an arts and crafts enterprise featuring art made by tribal members. The Indian Arts and Crafts Board purchased 17 pieces from the enterprise for its Headquarters Collection.

The Stockbridge–Munsee Arts and Crafts Enterprise began in 1963 through a proposal from the Indian Affairs Subcommittee of the Governor’s Commission on Human Rights and was realized through a grant and a loan from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.[1] Centered on “the creation of fine crafts forms,” the program trained members of the Stockbridge–Munsee community in weaving, printmaking, jewelry making, and woodcarving. Instructors from the University of Wisconsin Art Education Extension trained the participants and assisted with the execution of the designs and development of promotional brochures.[2] Targeting tourist and gift markets, the enterprise emphasized the incorporation of local materials and tribal designs and produced silver jewelry, woven ties and belts, wooden bowls, and printed wall hangings and tote bags.

258620 Stockbridge-Munsee tote bag
Stockbridge–Munsee tote bag, 1964. Bowler, Stockbridge–Munsee Reservation, Shawano County, Wisconsin. Block print ink on canvas, twine, commercially tanned leather, metal grommets; 44.2 x 29.3 x 1.5 cm. Purchased in 1964 by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives from Wisconsin Indian Craft. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/8620

Although the Stockbridge–Munsee Community is now located in Wisconsin, its history begins on the East Coast of the United States with the Mohicans of New England and the Lenni Lenape of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. In 1734, missionary John Sergeant preached to Mohicans living in the village of Wnahtukuk and Christianized them. Sergeant encouraged the Mohicans to start a mission in western Massachusetts. The mission was called Stockbridge, and the Mohicans who moved there became known as the Stockbridge Indians. Increasing encroachment by white settlers forced the Stockbridge Indian community to move to central New York in the 1780s. In 1817 and 1818, as land companies encouraged the state of New York to remove its Indian tribes, Stockbridge families moved to Indiana to live among the Miami and the Lenni Lenape. Upon their arrival, the Stockbridge community discovered that the land in Indiana had been sold to white settlers.

In 1822—joined by the Munsee, a group of Lenni Lenape—the Stockbridge settled in the Fox Valley of Wisconsin. That year the state of New York and the U.S. War Department negotiated with the Menominee and Ho-Chunk of Wisconsin to establish land tracts for the Stockbridge–Munsee and two other East Coast tribes who had been pushed west—the Oneida and the Brothertown Indians. By 1831, 225 Stockbridge lived in Wisconsin along with 100 Munsee. In 1839, following the implementation of the Indian Removal Act by President Andrew Jackson, some Stockbridge–Munsee, who feared another relocation, moved to Indian Territory. Some of those families stayed in Kansas and Oklahoma; others returned to Wisconsin in 1848. For a more detailed history of that period, see the Stockbridge–Munsee Community website

257479 Stockbridge–Munsee Many Trails pendant

257478 Stockbridge–Munsee mayflower pendant
Upper: Stockbridge–Munsee necklace with Many Trails pendant, 1963–64. Silver, commercial leather thong; 32 x 3 x 0.7 cm. NMAI 25/7479 
Lower: Stockbridge–Munsee necklace with mayflower pendant, 1963–64. Silver, glass, commercial leather thong; 36.5 x 6.7 x 1 cm. NMAI 25/7478 
Both: Bowler, Stockbridge–Munsee Reservation, Shawano County, Wisconsin. Purchased in 1964 by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives from the Tipi Shop, Sioux Indian Museum and Crafts Center, Rapid City, South Dakota. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. 

The Many Trails design seen on this silver pendant symbolizes the diasporic history of the Stockbridge–Munsee. Created by Elder Edwin Martin, the design uses numerous lines to represent the many trails taken by the Stockbridge–Munsee from the East Coast to Wisconsin. Martin reflected that the design symbolizes the “endurance, strength, and hope” of the Stockbridge–Munsee.[3]

Interestingly, the Many Trails pendant in the IACB Headquarters Collection uses an early version of the design motif. The current Many Trails design includes concentric circles representing campfires.

In July 2002, I interviewed Buck Martin (Stockbridge–Munsee), Edwin Martin's son, about the objects from the Stockbridge–Munsee Arts and Crafts Enterprise. The flower pendant with three silver petals set with a nugget of red glass depicts a mayflower. Buck Martin explained, “Mayflowers cover our reservation. That’s what we call them. . . . It’s the first flower that comes up in the spring . . . when you see them, you know that Mother Nature is waking up.”[4] The mayflower is also known as the trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens), a fragrant white or pink flower found in the eastern United States and Canada.

The other jewelry pieces feature examples of local fauna such as turtles, frogs, and fish made into silver pins, earrings, cufflinks, and tie bars. Upon seeing the colle­­ction, Buck Martin remarked that “nature impacted the development of the designs.”[5] The turtle pin is for the turtle clan, and the frog pin speaks to “the spring [when] you can hear frogs all around.”[6]

The enterprise attached labels of certification to its work saying “Hand Crafted by Indians of Wisconsin, Stockbridge Munsee Tribe, Bowler, Wisconsin.” Its products were sold to shops in the Milwaukee area and at Wisconsin tourist shops; the Tipi Shop, Inc., an arts and crafts shop within the Sioux Indian Museum in Rapid City, South Dakota, carried its products as well. The Stockbridge–Munsee Arts and Crafts Enterprise operated until 1970. 

—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] “Exhibit of Indians’ Crafts Now Being Shown at U.W.,” The Capital Times (Madison WI), 18 December 1964: 5.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Catherine Coleman Brawer (ed.), Many Trails: Indians of the Lower Hudson Valley (Katonah NY: The Katonah Gallery, 1983), 9.

[4] Buck Martin, phone interview by Anya Montiel, 9 July 2002.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

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October 14, 2015

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: Catawba Pottery

259216 Catawba

259217 Catawba
Upper: Sara Ayers (Catawba, 1919–2002), vessel. 1962, Rock Hill, York County, South Carolina. Pottery, 22.5 x 14.3 x 13.2 cm. Donated to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board by the artist in 1962. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/9216. 
Lower: Nola Campbell (Catawba, 1918–2009), bowl with human effigy finials, 1960–62. Pottery, 33.5 x 13 x 10 cm. Donated to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board by the artist in 1962. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/9217. 


These ceramic bowls came into the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) Headquarters Collection from the artists directly. In 1962, Robert G. Hart, then general manager of the IACB, inquired about arts and crafts production among the Catawba of South Carolina. Word reached Gladys G. Thomas (1921–72), president of the Catawba Relief Society, who told fellow Catawba potters about the inquiry. Master potters Sara Ayers (1919–2002) and Nola Campbell (1918–2009) made gifts of these bowls to the IACB for exhibition purposes. The South Carolina General Assembly recognized Ayers and Campbell with its Folk Heritage Award, and their works are sought after by collectors today.

Catawba potters gather clay from the banks of the nearby Catawba River. These works are not wheel thrown; Ayers and Campbell used the traditional coiling method, building the walls of the vessel by wrapping “ropes” of clay on a base, then smoothing the walls by hand and with tools of shell, wood, or other materials. Before firing, the ceramics are burnished or rubbed with a river stone that adds a reflective sheen. The pieces are fired in an open pit, and the fire creates dark patterns and marks on the exterior. According the potter Louise Bryson, “when we burn them, we don’t know what color they’ll burn out. I like mine black. Some like reds and some whites.”[1] The “Indian head,” seen here, is a popular design, along with double-spouted wedding vases, three-legged pots, and snake pots. Handles and “heads” are not merely attached to the outside of a Catawba the ceramic. Holes are bored into the vessel's wall, and the appendages are inserted through them.[2]

The Catawba Indian Nation is the only federally recognized tribe in South Carolina. The Catawba are located in York County, in the north-central part of the state, and the current enrollment is more than 2,800 members. 

It is important to note that during the time of this interaction between the tribe and the IACB, the Catawba had been “terminated,” a U.S. federal policy realized through House Concurrent Resolution 108 (HCR 108), passed in 1953, subsequently terminating 109 tribes from federal recognition as sovereign dependent nations and eliminating at least 1.3 million acres of land from tribal ownership. The implications of HCR 108 for terminated tribes included ending federal responsibility, protection, and aid; withdrawing government services; closing certain Bureau of Indian Affairs schools and health clinics; abolishing tribal rolls; and dissolving reservations. The Catawba Indian tribe of South Carolina was terminated under federal law in 1959.

The Catawba petitioned the federal government for reinstatement in 1973. In 1980, the tribe filed suit in federal court to regain possession of its treaty lands. The U.S. government ruled that the 1840 Treaty of Nations Ford was invalid because it was negotiated with the state of South Carolina and not the federal government. After twenty years, the Catawba Indian Nation received federal recognition in 1993.

The IACB Headquarters Collection contains 17 Catawba artworks, all ceramic pieces—bowls, pipe bowls, figurines, etc. Thirteen works are by Sara Ayers and two by Nola Campbell; two are by unknown artists. Ayers developed and maintained a relationship with the IACB; she donated to the collection two more times. In 1973, she gifted a six-stemmed pipe bowl during a visit to Washington, D.C. Two years later, Ayers gifted a tripod vessel with “Indian head” handles. Robert Hall thanked her for the 1975 donation in a letter and remarked that, “I feel that [this work] is an especially fine piece, and we are delighted to have it so that many people over the years will have an opportunity to gain enjoyment and inspiration from it.”[3] The IACB purchased the remaining nine pieces from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Indian Craft Shop in Washington, D.C.

—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 Collection at the museum.


[1] Thomas John Blumer and William L. Harris, Catawba Indian Pottery: The Survival of a Folk Tradition (Tuscaloosa AL: University of Alabama Press, 2004), 58.

[2] Blumer and Harris, 131. 

[3] Robert G. Hart, IACB general manager, to Sara Ayers, 29 July 1975, letter, IACB accession file for NMAI 25/9772, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC.

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September 26, 2015

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: The Shungnak Jade Project

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) supported many regional and tribal arts projects in Alaska. In the 1960s, the IACB created a touring exhibition on the arts of Alaska. In 1966, the board devoted the fall/winter issue of its newsletter, Smoke Signals, to Alaska's arts enterprises. In that issue, George Fedoroff (1906–2001), the IACB specialist for Alaska, explained that the state's vast territory, geographic isolation, and irregular access to materials and technologies affected the production, support, and marketing of Alaska Native arts and crafts.[1] The IACB, therefore, paid special attention to assisting Native craftspeople through training and development workshops such as wood carving in Sitka, metalworking at the University of Alaska Extension Center for Arts and Crafts in Fairbanks, printmaking in Nome, and sculpting in Port Chilkoot. 

256807 Shungnak jadeJade samples,1960. NANA Regional Corporation, Shungnak, Alaska. Nephrite, 16.9 x 8.2 x 9.5 cm. Purchased in 1960 from the Shungnak Jade Project. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6807 


During the 1950s, the Alaska Native Service and the IACB collaborated on supporting the Shungnak Jade Project, an Inupiat arts and crafts enterprise located in the town of Shungnak in the Northwest Arctic Borough. The name Shungnak is a derivation of issingnak, the Inupiaq word for jade, and the town lies in the Kobuk River Valley, which is known for its jade deposits. For thousands of years, the Inupiat have used jade for tools such as adzes and scrapers. An elder told Frank Long, the IACB production specialist assigned to the jade project from 1953 to 1957, that “knife blades, creasing tools, sharpeners, axe blades of jade were highly prized and of great trading value, since they were sharper and more durable than those of any other material.”[2]

 

256806 Shungnak earringsAn IACB brochure promoted the Shungnak Jade Project as “a business owned and operated by the Eskimo people of Shungnak.”[3] Instead of constructing jade tools, the project produced pieces for the tourist market—earrings, pendants, bracelets, and pins set in silver and gold. Popular items included heart and cross pendants, but also necklaces and earrings representing stylized seals, such as the set below in yellowish-green jade. The project wanted buyers to know that, unlike jade jewelry sold in other Alaskan shops, these works were locally made from Kobuk jade. 

256269 Shungnak set

Upper right: Earrings, 1960. NANA Regional Corporation, Shungnak, Alaska. Jade, metal jewelry findings; 3.7 x 1.5 x 0.4 cm. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6806.  Above: Necklace and earrings representing stylized seals, 1953–54. NANA Regional Corporation, Shungnak, Alaska. Jade, gold jewelry findings, metal chain; 28 x 1.4 x 0.2 cm. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6269


During its first year in 1951, the project grossed $350. That figure rose to $4,830.19 in 1954.[4] The project hired George O. Cleveland (Inupiaq) as its manager in 1953 (he also ran the post office). In the summer months, the artisans staffed a demonstration and sales shop in Kotzebue, a popular post-World War II tourist locale about 150 air miles west of Shungnak. The sales shop occupied a Quonset hut owned by the Bureau of Land Management. The project also sent jewelry to the Alaska Native Arts and Crafts Clearing House in Juneau for sale.

Despite its gross sales and number of trained artisans, the Shungnak Jade Project was ended in 1963. Three years earlier in an IACB report, Daniel Burlison, the IACB specialist who replaced Long, explained that the project had been plagued by faulty and damaged equipment, which resulted in “a complete halt in operation . . . [for] weeks” until the arrival of replacement parts or new equipment.”[5] Since the lapidary equipment required power, the project operated from the basement of the Bureau of Indian Affairs school, which often complained about the dwindling gasoline reserves. Furthermore, Burlison found that “less than 10% of all jade secured in this area is of gem quality.”[6]

In a subsequent letter to the IACB Headquarters in Washington, Fedoroff described the multiple obstacles in obtaining the jade itself.

To begin with, it is almost a 50-mile trip by small boat and outboard motor. In actual distance it is not this far, but the many bends and twists in the river add to the mileage. . . . The best possible condition for hunting and securing jade on the Shungnak comes when the river is at its lowest; consequently, getting even a small board and supplies up this river means getting out of the boat every few hundred yards in order to get over the shallows and gravel bars. Pulling a loaded boat against the current for half-mile stretches can be quite a strenuous exercise, and the poor footing in the river bottom over rocks, boulders, and slime does nothing to improve the situation. Hordes of millions of mosquitoes do nothing to improve one’s disposition.

The IACB purchased these jewelry items and the piece of raw jade from the Shungnak Jade Project through George Cleveland and Frank Long for exhibition purposes. Unfortunately, the names of the artisans were not listed in the records.

—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 Collection at the museum.


[1] George Fedoroff, “Alaska: Design for Today,” Smoke Signals: A Circular for Craftsmen 50–51 (Fall-Winter 1966): 5.

[2] Frank Long, “Alaskan Jade,” Smoke Signals: A Circular for Craftsmen 8 (August 1953): 12.

[3] “Shungnak Jade Project,” no date, brochure, Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Record Group 435; National Archives, Washington DC.

[4] Frank Long, IACB Arts and Crafts specialist, to J. Edward Davis, IACB General Manager, 25 March 1955, letter, Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Record Group 435; National Archives, Washington DC.

[5] Daniel Burlison, IACB Arts and Crafts specialist, to IACB, report entitled “Report: Results and Development in Promoting Eskimo Arts and Crafts above the Arctic Circle,” March 1960, Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Record Group 435; National Archives, Washington DC.

[6] Ibid.

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