Monday, December 10, 2012

Uplifters, Preservationists, and Maria Martinez

With the wealth of opportunities in every field today, it's difficult to identify with women's quest for meaningful work during the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For the first time in history, women could attend university with the goal of a career that did not include housekeeping and raising children. Bear in mind however, those females who were able to take advantage of the increasingly relaxed societal rules were largely white, finacially well off and/or supported by their families. Perhaps these new opportunities for success can both explain and forgive the misguided hubris exhibited as they explored new career prospects. 
Preservationists Mabel Dodge Luhan, Frieda Lawrence, Dorothy Brett
at Mrs. Lawrence's porch, near Taos, probably 1938
Photograph by Cady Wells
           As white women carved out careers for themselves after higher education, many graduates pursued the new fields of sociology and anthropology—careers not tied to any male moral authority. At least two distinct groups of those women took part in the Indian arts and crafts movement, and, although a few men played key roles, it was largely a women’s adventure. Women also comprised large numbers of two main organizations concerned with pueblo Indian art—the Indian Arts Fund (IAF) and the Arts and Crafts Committee of the New Mexico Association on Indian Affairs (NMAIA).[1] The organizations were contentious at times. The NMAIA—the anti-modernists—chaired by Margaret McKittrick, favored the preservation of pueblo culture and art and sought to revive” high-quality” and “traditional” Indian art, as a means of insulating the pueblos from modern America.[2] The IAF sought the pueblo’s assimilation into modern American society, which would “uplift” the Indians out of their supposed backward and degraded state.

Because much of the Indian Arts and Crafts movement focused on pottery, primarily a pueblo Indian woman’s craft, it also involved higher numbers of Indian women than of men.[3] White women transformed Indian women artists into powerful symbols of their competing notions of women’s roles in modern America. Influenced by newly developed theories of cultural relativism, and disillusioned by modern American society, the preservationists lauded the Pueblo Indians as a model society and campaigned to defend Pueblo lands and dances. The Indian Arts and Crafts movement became the means to preserve the preservationist’s image of the ideal Pueblo Indian—a deeply spiritual, traditional artist, who sacrificed his or her individual interests for the good of the community and who lived in harmony with nature.[4] 
Mary Hunter Austin
ca. 1900
Charles Fletcher Loomis
Preservationists such as McKittrick, Mary Austin [5] and Mabel Dodge Luhan [6] tied their work into a new vision of womanhood that emphasized women’s self-fulfillment and individualism. The preservationists also tended to believe that pueblo women enjoyed high social status with the notion of “Mother-rule”, which explained the seemingly harmonious communalism of the pueblos. “Perhaps the most stabilizing fact of the Pueblo Constitution is its retention of the matriarchal formula for its social pattern,” contended Austin. “Peace and stability, these are the first fruits of Mother-rule.”[7] Austin and Dodge firmly held that women in the pueblos held the ultimate authority.

Mabel Dodge Luhan
Carmel, ca. March 1930
Edward Weston
Weston Collection.
          Those involved with the NMAIA were at nearly opposite terms. Many of those participants had served in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) as schoolteachers and field matrons. Those women aligned themselves with the federal government’s policy of assimilation through education, suppression of native religion, and individual allotment of communally held Indian lands.[8] The arts and crafts production, in their eyes, could serve to uplift Indians to civilization, rather than to preserve them in their “backward” state. These “uplifters,” or as they would be known in the East—Progressives, believed that transforming Indian homes into “Christian” homes was the first step in the assimilation process. The ideal home, modeled on the uplifter’s idea of the “Christian home”, should cultivate “order and purity” and an “atmosphere of uprightness and goodness.” [9] While it's unknown whether women were guided to teach specific arts dictated by the New Mexico Association on Indian Affairs or had the freedom to research the true crafts of the pueblo artists, it is likely that they taught what they knew. Clara True, a former schoolteacher and long-time reformer attempted to “uplift” Pueblo girls through “reviving” Indian embroidery, a craft never pursued by pueblo women.[10]

In a report for BIA Home Economics teachers, the author explained that, “for place cards, greeting and announcement cards, lamp shades, bedspreads, pillows, book covers, and in countless other ways, the Indian designs may be used to give pleasure to…girls and their friends and to…make a contribution to the cultural life of the Indian child.” [11] What a ridiculous notion. Unfortunately, the uplifter’s participation in the Indian arts and crafts movement proved that they were less concerned with reviving traditional and authentic craft, as they were with giving the Indians a viable means of “bettering” themselves. This vision of Indian arts and crafts differed vastly from the preservationists’ view, which regarded the making of these non-native items as “atrocities.”

Elizabeth DeHuff [12] recounted the perfect example of  an incident that demonstrates Indian women’s overt conformity, but covert defiance of white women’s promotion of arts and crafts. One summer, a young white woman who had studied ceramics in the east came to live in a Pueblo village. She intended to teach Pueblo women how to make pots that would hold water without seepage. All summer long, she gathered together the potters of the pueblo and taught them how to glaze their pots. According to DeHuff, “the Indian women watched, followed instructions, and made the glazed pottery.” When the young ceramic artist left at the end of the summer, she congratulated herself on her “successful philanthropy.” But the Indian women—one and all—walked to the edge of the mesa and, with a cluck of disgust, hurled all of the glazed pots they had made over the precipice, breaking them into bits.”[13] While outwardly seeming to accommodate the white woman, Indian women deeply resented the white woman’s assumptions that she knew better than they, how to make pots. The following conversation between Julian, Martinez, and Martinez’s father reveals that they manipulated the preservationists’ desires for authenticity. Maria told Julian she wanted to make some “new kind of bowls.” He replied, “You mean the old kind.” Maria’s father quipped, “The new old kind.” Maria concluded, “The kind the white people want.”[14]

Maria Martinez
with pottery adapted for new tastes
By the time Maria Martinez was born, sometime during the 1880s, San Ildefonso, like many other pueblos, was suffering from severe economic depression. As Native American crafts were “rediscovered” at the beginning of the twentieth century, the wares became popular with collectors. San Ildefonso benefited greatly from the trend because, although the Pueblo population was small, there were a number of skilled artisans, makers of pottery, and painters, who set to work to improve the dire economic condition of the pueblo.  During the early twentieth century, when the black pots were revived (as will be discussed) due primarily to the work of Martinez and her husband Julian, the fortunes of the pueblo began to improve dramatically.

The continuity of pottery styles was punctuated by changes that resulted from experiments in decorative techniques and pottery-building methods. Yet, few changes were as significant as those introduced with the arrival of the railroad, and the cash economy that accompanied it. New bowls and jars, not historically made, evolved into shapes that would appeal to the white purchasers. These forms included bowls of a variety of shapes, tall vases designed to serve as holders of flowers or lamp bases, other shapes such as cigarette boxes and ashtrays. [15] Born during this time of change, Martinez was able to draw on traditions of the past, with an understanding of the demands of the present.

Next post: All about Maria

 1. Susan R Ressler, ed. Women Artists of the American West. Jacobs Margaret D. Shaping a New Way: White Women and the Movement to Promote Pueblo Indian Arts and Crafts, 1900-1935 (North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2003), 83.
  2. Brody, Indian Painters; and Molly Mullin, “the Patronage of Difference: Making Indian Art ‘Art, not Ethnologym’” Cultural Anthropology 7 (1992): 395-424. Anti-Modernists opposed modernization, not modernism—an intellectual movement that developed in the first decades of the 20th century rather than modernization: the industrialization, bureaucratization and rationalization of American Society.
  3 . See “Named Artists on Indian Arts Fund Collection Pottery,” IAF Potters folder, Indian Arts Fund papers, Indian Arts and Research Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Of those men listed, most painted designs on their wives’ pottery.
  4.  Margaret Jacobs, Engendered Encounters: Feminism and Pueblo Cultures, 1879-1934. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999); Richard Frost, “The Romantic Inflation of Pueblo Culture,” The American West 17, no. 1 (Jan/Feb 1980), 5-9, 56-7.
5.  J. Wilkes Berry, Mary Hunter Austin (1868-1934), American Literary Realism, 1870-1910
Vol. 2, No. 2 (University of Illinois Press, Summer, 1969), 125-131. Austin was a novelist, poet, critic, and playwright, as well as an early
feminist and defender of Native American and Spanish-American rights.
 6. Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, (accessed June 28, 2011). Luhan was a wealthy American writer, social activist, and patron of the arts. She is particularly associated with the Taos art community which included Georgia O’Keefe and Willa Cather.
 7.  Mary Austin, Taos Pueblo, photographs by Ansel Easton Adams (San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, 1930), no page numbers.
 8. For good overviews of federal assimilation policy see Frederick Hoxie, A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880-1920. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) and several works by Francis, Paul Prucha, American Indian Policy in Crisis: Christian Reformers and the Indian, 1865-1900 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976); The Churches and the Indian Schools, 1888-1912 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979) and The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians, vol. 2 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984).
  9.  Josephine Richards, “The Training of the Indian Girl as the Uplifter of the Home,” Proceedings and Addresses, National Education Association, vol. 39 (1900), 704.
  10. Clara True to Mrs. Markoe, Board of Indian Rights Association (IRA) papers, microfilm edition (Glen Rock NJ: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1975), Reel 41.
  11. “The Use of Indian Designs in the Government Schools,” U.S. Office of Indian Affairs Report, n.d. [ca. 1930], Chapman papers, Archives of the Laboratory of Anthropology/Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
12. Yale University, Beinbeke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Elizabeth Willis DeHuff Collection of American Indian Art, (accessed December 9, 2011). A teacher at Barnard College in New York, DeHuff relocated to Santa Fe with her husband and taught painting. She encouraged the Native Americans to paint images from their heritage which caused an uproar. Critics alleged she encouraged paganism by allowing the young artists to paint traditional stories and tribal religious customs.
13. Elizabeth DeHuff, “Pueblo Episodes,” unpublished ms., n.d., Box 6, Folder 48, DeHuff Family papers.
14. Alice Marriott, Maria : The Potter of San Ildefonso (Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press; Norman, Oklahoma, 1976), 167.

15. Bunzel, The Pueblo Potter, 44.

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