The Early Years of Native American Art History

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Edited by Janet Catherine Berlo The field of Native American art history, and our idea of what comprises Indian art itself, were molded largely by policies of the museums and institutions that established their ethnological collections in the second half of the nineteenth century. Objects housed in the great natural history museums - collected and seen first as natural history specimens and later as "primitive art" - have long been considered to be normative Native American art, rather than as representative of a long and changing history, and collectors' biases against Euro-American influenced work, tourist items, and contemporary art have further distorted ou understanding of the field. Such attitudes and practices have led to accusations that an imperialistic Native American art history not only developed but maintains, the fictions of a colonizer/colonized relationship. This collection of essays deals with the development of Native American art history as a discipline rather than with particular art works or artists. It focuses on the early anthropologist, museum curators, dealers, and collectors, and on the multiple levels of understanding and misunderstanding, appropriation and reapproriation, that characterized their transactions. The essays examine major figures, art forms, institutions, and events of the early years when Native American artworks were first collected, studied, and displayed.