By Sandra Lynch

On October 24 and 25, all day Saturday and Sunday, Sharlot Hall Museum will host its first Prescott Indian Art Market featuring over 50 Native artists.  The idea of Indian art, as market commodity, evolved within a history both Native and American.  Long before Spain's galleons put to shore in the Caribbean, American Indians had established art markets.  Pacific shell pendants, etched by acid and wax, crossed Arizona deserts in human caravans.


Chipped glassy stone passed through hands far from the volcanic heat that created them.  Painted fragile pottery, crafted and fired by Northern New Mexico's prehistoric Chacoans, became barter in our own Bradshaw Mountains.  In historic times, Americans modified Indian trade. Dollars monetized markets and pick-up trucks and paved highways replaced the ancient traders whose trails linked far-flung settlements. 


By 1900, American Indian art was big business.  Thomas Keam sold a massive collection of Hopi pottery, over 2,500 pieces to the Hemenway Expedition.  The purchase price was $10,000, a whopping sum in 1892. George Emmons, an enterprising Naval officer, sold over 4,000 pieces of Tlingit art to the American Museum of Natural History between 1888, and 1893. He collected a tidy sum of $37,000. Even in America's depressed economic years, such as 1908, rug trader Lorenzo Hubbell grossed $45,000 on Navajo weavings. 


Indians had witnessed many changes by 1890.  Big Foot's terrible ending at Wounded Knee marked a finality to the Plains Indian wars.  Geronimo languished in a Florida prison, to widespread relief in Arizona.  Indians who had not perished in war were contained on reservations where, as federal wards, they became miserably poor.  Sentiment towards these unthreatening, despondent people turned to missionary and reform-minded policy.  Paternalistic reformers proposed that the quaint and primitive Native arts and crafts could provide income on hard-bitten reservations. Likewise, the government would be relieved of its subsidies to keep America's Indians alive. 


During the annual Lake Mohonk Conference of the Friends of the Indian in 1890, Philip Garrett proposed industrializing Native crafts.  His speech envisioned Yuma, Arizona, as "the hive of as busy an industry as Trenton, with a forest of smoking furnace stacks" creating Indian pottery: unique, characteristically Indian and cheap.  It was a "Job Core" program for the 'Rez', never a strategy to encourage good art. It was a method to create massive commercialization and engineer the conversion of Indian into white man. 


Along Santa Fe's rail lines, massive commercialization responded to a tourism market spurred by those eager to see John Wesley Powell's West.  Crude pottery and jewelry was spread out on Mexican serapes.  Pueblo women begged a few pennies from the trains for their work.  Art and skill was lost, in what Edgar Cahill called the carelessness of the white, "great Machine People, who have carried ugliness well-nigh to apothesis." 


By 1923, a group of cultural connoisseurs formed the American Indian Defense Association.  John B. Collier was among the organization's fourteen founders.  He passionately believed in the importance of cultural diversity and focused on Indian culture as his personal preservation project.  Collier also believed high quality Indian art and craft could erase racial inferiority and advance Indian welfare. 


When Franklin Roosevelt came to power, the feisty, often controversial Collier became Commissioner of Indian Affairs.  At a time when the nation suffered paralyzing depression, Collier tapped into the federal pocket on behalf of Indians.  Under the Civil Works Administration, Indian artists were hired to decorate public buildings. Forty-five Indian painters and craftsmen from Albuquerque and Santa Fe Indian schools were paid to paint wall murals and weave rugs. 


The public feeding trough could not long feed, nor feed many, Indians. It was Collier's daughter-in-law, Nina, who guided Indian art towards business markets.  Nina approached New York's R. H. Macy and Company with a unique idea: Why not hold an exhibition and sale of Southwest Indian art?  The art would be have to be "good," "modern" in design, and still be easily fitted into a home furnishings department.  Goods would be sold on consignment, and the department store's mark-up would be as much as 100 percent.  Macy's agreed, deciding to target the campaign at middle-class consumers.  The company accepted about $40,000 worth of merchandise--the largest public marketing effort attempted for its time. 


Though successful, the sale began a fury of controversy.  Ten percent of the sales was pre-directed to the American Indian Defense Association to help build marketing programs.  Traders attacked this check-off wanting neither government, nor Colliers, in the trading business.  Collier countered by forming a subcommittee that investigated unscrupulous Indian traders.  Traders, he said, had created monopolies.  They paid no premium for quality work, consequently held down prices. Furthermore, trader sweat shops employed many people, not just Indian workers. 


Collier issued orders that no Indian art or craft could be sold through any of the national parks unless they were "authentically" Indian.  The parks' largest silver jewelry supplier was the Southwest Arts and Crafts Company.  Collier telegrammed Oliver LaFarge, then principal of Santa Fe's Indian School, to investigate the Southwest Company.  LaFarge provided evidence that the company's products were not genuinely Indian handmade.  Although there were no standards for genuineness to act upon, the director of the National Park Service canceled all Southwest Company orders.  Other indictments followed against other traders. 


The benefit of these trader wars was stimulated thinking about standards for Indian art.  The struggle to define the language of these standards launched the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (created in 1935).  For the Board, creating standards was a risky business.  By the mere process of formalizing marketing standards for Native art, government was also subjecting it to white society's influence.  Although the Board was seriously underfunded (and interrupted by World War II), it did establish some reasonable guidelines. Many of these considerations still impact today's markets. 


Collier's vision produced other blessings besides the Board.  Santa Fe's Indian School became a haven for Indian arts. Under the tutelage of Dorothy Dunn, the Studio produced hundreds of talented artists.  Collier's Indian Arts and Crafts Board provided seed money creating both reservation cooperatives and Native art shows. Much later (1962), Santa Fe saw the birth of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA).  The Institute has focused on developing talented young Indian artists to express both tribal symbolism and social views. 


Many of today's front-runners in the Native art market are graduates from either Dunn's school or IAIA.  Names such as Joe Toledo, Urshell Taylor, and David Sine filter Dunn's influences. IAIA has promoted its share of remarkable students through its active scholarship and aid programs--artists like David Dawangyumptewa, Patrick Smith, and Evelyn Fredericks. 


On October 24-25, you could meet these artists who follow in the footprints of Dunn, IAIA and a rich history of art. Sharlot Hall Museum has invited them, and fifty other fine Indian artists, to present and sell their work at the first Prescott Indian Art Market. The  Museum embraces the goal of providing an outlet for good quality, authentic American Indian art.  Join us next weekend to admire and support this tradition.  Visit our website ( for more details. 


Sandra Lynch is Curator of Anthropology at Sharlot Hall Museum.

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (iny2129p). Reuse only by permission.
A group of Yavapai women work on "products of E.R.A [Emergency Relief Act] Women's Projects" at the state fair. The Public Works of Art Project employed about 2500 Indian and non-Indian artists during the 1930s. On the 24-25 of October, 1998, the Sharlot Hall Museum will be presenting an Indian Arts Market.