American Indian Galleries, Levels 2 & 3, North Building
The American Indian collection represents the artistic works of nearly every tribe across the United States and Canada and all artistic traditions created within these cultures from prehistoric times to the present. It offers visitors the opportunity to experience the artistic vision of generations of American Indian artists from across North America.
From ancient puebloan ceramics, to nineteenth-century Arapaho beaded garments, to contemporary glasswork, the museum offers a look at the rich diversity of art forms, histories, and artistic styles coming from American Indian artists and communities. True to the organizing theme of the galleries, Artist’s Eye, Artist’s Hand, visitors are reminded that American Indian art is a vibrant and continuing tradition advanced by individual artists and craftspersons.
Beginning in the 1920s, the Denver Art Museum was one of the first museums to use aesthetic quality as the criteria to develop a native arts collection and was the first art museum in the United States to collect American Indian art. Over the past century the collection has grown to encyclopedic proportions and now contains nearly 20,000 art objects.
Plains & Plateau
Numbering more than 4,000 items, the DAM’s collection of Plains material includes six full-sized tipis, beaded cradleboards, ledger drawings, weapons, horse trappings, belts, blankets, headdresses, robes, shirts, dresses, and footwear.
This part of the collection features nearly 4,000 items of pottery, basketry, clothing, jewelry, and katsina dolls, and represent 25 tribal traditions.
The Artic collection consists of archaeological and ethnographic specimens and contemporary Inuit graphic art. More than 300 examples of woodblock and stone-cut prints produced by Inuit artists of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s are represented.
The extraordinary wood, stone, and bone carving traditions of the Tlingit, Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw, and Nuxalk peoples are represented in great depth, ranging from both historic and contemporary monumental totem poles to ceremonial items to highly decorated utilitarian objects such as storage boxes and dugout canoes.
Great Lakes, Northeast & Subarctic
The major art forms of these three regions are well represented by historic beadwork, basketry, ribbonwork, and sculpture, as well as the work of notable contemporary artists.
Great Basin & California
Basketry is a great strength in these areas, from openwork winnowing baskets and beaded baskets of the Great Basin region to feathered Pomo baskets.
Three art forms from this region are significantly represented: Seminole patchwork clothing; mid-twentieth-century cultural revival of Cherokee and Choctaw basketry by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board; and Cherokee and Seminole beaded bandolier bags from the early 1800s.
The native arts department has an extensive research library consisting of 20,000 books, periodicals, field notes, and photography archives. In addition, the department holds the work of early non-Indian artists and photographers (Karl Bodmer, Charles Wimar, McKinney and Hall, Edward S. Curtis, and D. F. Barry, among others) who sought to document Indian life and art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
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Recent publications on American Indian art that the department has contributed expertise to include:
- Super Indian: Fritz Scholder 1967–1980. John P. Lukavic, with Jessica Horton, Eric Berkemeyer, and Kent Logan. Denver Art Museum in association with Delmonico/Prestel, 2015.
- Revolt 1680/2180: Virgil Ortiz. Edited by John Lukavic, essay by Charles King, foreword by Herman Agoyo. Denver Art Museum, 2015.
- Grand Procession: Artistic Visions of American Indians, The Diker Collection at the Denver Art Museum. Lois Dubin. Denver Art Museum, 2010.
- [Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art. Edited by Nancy J. Blomberg. Denver Art Museum, 2010.
- Action and Agency: Advancing the Dialogue on Native Performance Art. Edited by Nancy J. Blomberg. Denver Art Museum, 2010.
- Breaking the Mold: The Virginia Vogel Mattern Collection of Contemporary Native American Art. Nancy J. Blomberg and Polly Nordstrand. Denver Art Museum, 2006.
- Reflections of the Weaver’s World: The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving. Ann Lane Hedlund. Denver Art Museum, 1992.
The native arts department is composed of the arts of the indigenous peoples of North America, Africa, and Oceania. Supporting these collections is a library of books and periodicals on specialized topics in native arts.
The American Indian art collection in the museum’s North Building represents the artistic works of nearly every tribe across the United States and Canada and all artistic traditions created within these cultures from prehistoric times to the present. Beginning in the 1920s, the Denver Art Museum was one of the first museums to use aesthetic quality as the criteria to develop such a collection and was the first art museum in the United States to collect American Indian art. Over the past century the collection has grown to encyclopedic proportions and now contains nearly 20,000 art objects.
In the American Indian art, Oceanic art, and African art collections, important modern and contemporary artists are represented; reflecting the continued but evolving artistic practice of indigenous artists and cultures.
- Nancy Blomberg, Chief Curator and Curator of Native Arts
- John Lukavic, Associate Curator of Native Arts
- Eric Berkemeyer, Curatorial Assistant of Native Arts
- Heather Nielsen, Associate Director of Learning and Engagement
- Edgar C. McMechan, Curator
- Frederic H. Douglas, Curator
- Kate Peck Kent, Assistant Curator
- Royal B. Hassrick, Curator
- Norman Feder, Curator
- Richard Conn, Curator
- David Irving, Assistant Curator
- Ryntha Johnson, Assistant Curator
- Roger Echo-Hawk, Assistant Curator
- Polly Nordstrand, Associate Curator
Biannual Symposium on American Indian Art
Every other year the native arts department hosts a symposium on topics related to American Indian art. Through this event the scholarly dialog on American Indian art is advanced.
Past symposia include:
- In Dialogue: Fritz Scholder and the Art World (January 7, 2016)