July 25, 2009

A New Deal for Native Art

Local author explores government influence on Native art

By Diane RechelA difficult economic era in American history that positively affected Native American art is explored in a new book by a Northern Arizona University professor.

A New Deal for Native Art: Indian Arts and Federal Policy 1933-1943, by Jennifer McLerran, an assistant professor of art history at NAU, examines how the U.S. government influenced Native American art production during the New Deal economic reform programs.

The New Deal was the name President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave to a package of economic programs he initiated between 1933 and 1935 with the goal of helping the unemployed and promoting financial recovery during the Great Depression.

"The New Deal programs had wide and significant impact on Native artwork, but little is known about them," McLerran says. "It's important for people working in the field today to know about past models that can be adapted to current needs."

In this first book to address the ways the New Deal policy advanced Native art forms, McLerran cites a number of successful Native-run arts and crafts cooperatives still in existence and presents case studies that demonstrate the revived success of selling Native artwork.

McLerran, who is also a curator at the Museum of Northern Arizona, describes the federal policies that sought to generate an upscale market with a "demand for high quality" Native American arts and crafts.

The New Deal set out to ensure that arts and crafts designated as "Native" were in fact created by Native Americans and made with real silver, gold, stones and gems.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.

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