This is a guest post by Barbara Bair, historian of Literature, Culture, and the Arts in the Manuscript Division.
This November, in celebration of Native American Heritage Month, a Library of Congress “Native American Arts” display highlights select Indigenous artists documented in Indian Arts and Crafts Board materials in the Manuscript Division’s Vincent Price Papers.
The U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) was created by Congress in 1935 to foster participation of Native American artists in the economic art market and to support the important roles American Indian artists and craftworkers play as intergenerational tribal community heritage bearers and mentors. The Library’s Manuscript Division holds documentation of IACB-sponsored art shows and related materials saved from IACB meetings in the Vincent Price Papers. Best known as an actor of stage and screen, Price (1911-1993), who was non-Native, was also a prominent arts activist, advisor, and collector. He used his high-profile celebrity status to promote public arts awareness and education through media interviews on late-night television and in print publications, and he served as a trustee or board member of various arts councils, galleries, and archives. Price was a member of the IACB board from 1957 to 1971. Materials in his personal papers about Native American artists and art centers relate closely to the more extensive IACB Accession Records Collection based at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) Archive Center and official records of the IACB at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Record Group 435.
Many artists who received IACB support subsequently marketed their creative work to museums or participated in art competitions and shows, powwow sales, and small-business galleries and artist cooperatives. They often pursued their art and mentored others in their communities while simultaneously supporting themselves and family members in other ways.
A selection of artists from different tribal heritages are highlighted in the current Library of Congress “Native American Arts” display, featured through gallery pamphlets from art shows that IACB sponsored in 1970. They include featherworker James Querdibitty (Comanche/Kiowa-Apache) and painter Rance Hood (Comanche), who had solo exhibitions at the Southern Plains Indian Museum and Crafts Center in Anadarko, Oklahoma; artist and illustrator Donald F. Montileaux (Oglala Sioux), who was featured at the Sioux Indian Museum and Crafts Center in Rapid City, South Dakota; and sculptor and wood carver Amanda Crowe and basketmaker Julia Taylor (both Eastern Band of Cherokee), whose work was displayed at the Members’ Gallery of Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., a Native artists cooperative in Cherokee, North Carolina.
James Querdibitty was born in 1920 in Anadarko, Oklahoma. He attended American Indian boarding schools at Riverside and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before joining the Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Cooperative. He learned featherwork by making his own dance costumes and soon began creating headdresses, war bonnets, and bustle sets at the request of others. According to his artist statement, Querdibitty supplemented his art income with seasonal work in a peanut mill in 1970 when IACB funds supported his first show as a featured artist.
Rance Hood was born in 1941 in Lawton, Oklahoma. He was educated as a boy in Indiahoma and Cache, Oklahoma, and was encouraged to draw by his Comanche grandmother, who raised him. Largely self-taught, he honed his techniques while befriending other Native artists, including T. C. Cannon (Kiowa/Caddo). Hood won an award for his painting “Eagle Dance” in a Native American art competition sponsored by the Philbrick Art Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1970, the same year the IACB funded his first solo exhibition. Known for his expressive style and powerful depictions of horses, Hood has had a long career. An oral history interview conducted with Hood in 2011 is part of the Oklahoma Native Artists Series archived through the oral history program of the Oklahoma State University Library.
Born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and based in Rapid City, famed ledger artist Donald F. Montileaux (also known as Yellowbird) is a visual storyteller whose bright dynamic imagery frequently depicts Plains Indian warriors, buffalo, and war horses. He attended the Institute for American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and was mentored by Herman Red Elk (Yanktonai Sioux), a hide painter from the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. Montileaux’s 1994 artwork created for the space shuttle Endeavour was donated to the NMAI in 2007.
Amanda Crowe (1928-2004) worked in different mediums, but she found particular joy in woodcarving, including animal figures, especially bears and bear families. She learned carving as a child from her uncle, master carver Goingback Chiltoskey (Eastern Band of Cherokee), and studied sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago and with José de Creeft in Mexico. For many years she taught wood carving to high school students in Cherokee, North Carolina, and was an instructor in an IACB-sponsored art program for Choctaw students in Mississippi in 1963. Crowe was honored nationwide as an artist-educator in a Google Doodle for Native American Heritage Month in 2018, and her work currently resides in various museums, including in Cherokee, North Carolina.
Julia Taylor (1902-1991) first learned white oak basketmaking from her mother and later worked in combination with her daughters. Her 1970 IACB solo exhibition at an artisan cooperative in North Carolina was followed in 1978 by another exhibition featuring the Taylor family.
Today, the IACB continues to advocate for American Indian art education and promote Native-owned small businesses and galleries. It particularly encourages the purchase of artwork made by members of federally or state-recognized tribes, and creates opportunity for commercial and fine artists, painters, sculptors, weavers, jewelry makers, potters, carvers, basketmakers, and other craftworkers throughout Indian Country to participate in the market economy.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) has worked with the IACB to provide public outreach to help buyers understand how to comply with the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) of 1990 (P.L. 101-644). The Act encourages support for tribal economies through the purchase of authentic American Indian art and bans misrepresentation in the marketing of American Indian art and craft products within the United States.
The “Native American Arts” display remains on view at the Library of Congress through December 6 on the second floor of the Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building.
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