Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection Opens at the Dallas Museum of Art

  • DALLAS, Texas
  • /
  • April 19, 2011

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Polar Bear Figure, Arctic and Subarctic, ca. A.D. 100–600, Prehistoric Eskimo (Ipuitak) Ivory H: 1 3/4 in. L: 4 1/2 in. W: 1 in. Thaw Collection, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y. Photograph by John Bigelow Taylor. Object ID: T0225.
Image courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art


In the Dallas Museum of Art’s first Native American exhibition in nearly twenty years, more than 100 works of art from the renowned Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, will be on view beginning April 24, 2011, in the Museum’s Chilton Galleries. Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection explores the extraordinarily diverse forms of visual expression in Native North America. Organized by geographic culture areas, the works of art in this exhibition date from well before first European contact to the present and celebrate the continuing vitality of American Indian art.

This major traveling exhibition reveals the exceptional variety of Native artistic production, ranging from the ancient ivories and ingenious modern masks of the Arctic to the dramatic sculptural arts of the Pacific Northwest, the millennia-long tradition of abstract art in the Southwest, the refined basketry of California and the Great Basin, the famous beaded and painted works of the Plains, and the luminous styles of the Eastern Woodlands, including the Great Lakes.

The DMA will open Art of the American Indians with a “Sneak Peek” Day on Saturday, April 23, with free admission and special programming, followed by a four-month-long schedule of family-friendly programs and activities. In addition, the DMA’s May and June Late Nights will be themed around the exhibition.

Woman’s Dress, Plains, Prairie, and Plateau, ca. 1850, Nez Perce (Nimi’ipuu), Idaho, Oregon, or eastern Washington. Deer hide, sinew thread, pony beads, dentalium shells, and pigment L: 78 1/2 in. W: 53 in. Thaw Collection, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y. Photograph by John Bigelow Taylor. Object ID: T0096.
Dallas Museum of Art

“This is a rare and wonderful chance to see an extraordinary range of Native North American works of the highest quality,” said Bonnie Pitman, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. “The Thaw Collection beautifully complements the DMA’s collection of art from Native North America, and we are delighted to offer visitors the expanded opportunity to explore these fascinating and beautiful treasures, both in the galleries and through our numerous programs and activities all summer long.”

“In Eugene Thaw’s own words, ‘Indian material culture stands rightfully with ancient art masterpieces of Asia and Europe as their equivalent,’” stated Carol Robbins, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Curator of the Arts of the Americas and the Pacific, and curator of the Dallas presentation. “Most of the works in the exhibition of the Thaw Collection, hailed by the New York Times as one that ‘any museum in the world should envy,’ date to the 19th century, but ancient and modern objects are also included to offer an enriching—and enduring—context.”

Exhibition highlights include:

Miniature Settee, Northeast Woodlands– This may have been an elaborate piece of doll furniture, a souvenir, or possibly a display model. Birchbark was manipulated to mimic a classic Empire-style settee that was then finished with an intricate working of moosehair embroidery.  

Horse Mask, Plains, Prairie, and Plateau–On the Plains and perhaps also the Plateau, where this mask was made, horses wore masks and other elaborate regalia during prewar processions. After the end of warfare in the 1880s, horse masks were worn for celebrations and parades.  

Jar with Eagle Tail-Feather Motifs, Southwest–This vessel was made by the legendary Nampeyo, who pioneered the modern revival of fine Pueblo pottery-making. Her work remains important for Hopi potters today, and some of her great-granddaughters carry on the tradition.  

The Ferns basket, California and the Great Basin–An exquisite example of California basketry from the early 20th century, this basket is elegant in its symmetry.

Headdress Frontlet, Northwest Coast–Native information about artwork was often not recorded by early collectors or has been lost, making it difficult to identify the creatures portrayed on many objects, such as this impressive headdress frontlet, a trapping of rank.

Polar Bear Figure, Arctic and Subarctic–Dating from c. 100–600, this prehistoric Eskimo (Ipuitak) object represents the earliest work of art in the exhibition.

Miniature Settee, Woodlands, ca. 1830, Huron (Wendat), Quebec. Birchbark, moosehair, and dye. H: 6 1/2 in. L: 13 in. D: 4 in. Thaw Collection, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y. Photograph by John Bigelow Taylor. Object ID: T0795.
Image courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art

Visitors will be able to experience Art of the American Indians with an audio tour of approximately thirty stops. For updated information on the variety of programs exploring the exhibition offered by the Museum in the months ahead, including lectures, music, dance performances, tours, and family activities, visit

Organized by the Fenimore Art Museum and curated by Eva Fognell, Curator of the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art, Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection opened at the Cleveland Museum of Art in March 2010, followed by the Minneapolis Museum of Art in October 2010. The exhibition will be on view at the Dallas Museum of Art April 24–September 4, 2011, and will subsequently open at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on December 4, 2011.

The exhibition in Dallas is presented by Texas Instruments. Air transportation in Dallas is provided by American Airlines. Promotional support provided by CBS 11.

A 120-page, full-color exhibition catalogue has been made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius.

About The Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art at Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York

Comprising more than 850 masterpieces of Native American art from across North America that span more than 2,000 years, The Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art is widely recognized as one of the most significant collections of American Indian art in the world. The Thaws began to collect these artworks in 1987 on the basis of their visual impact, superb artistry, and exceptional aesthetic qualities.


About the Dallas Museum of Art

Located in the vibrant Arts District of downtown Dallas, Texas, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) ranks among the leading art institutions in the country and is distinguished by its innovative exhibitions and groundbreaking educational programs. At the heart of the Museum and its programs are its global collections, which encompass more than 24,000 works and span 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Established in 1903, the Museum welcomes approximately 600,000 visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary readings, and dramatic and dance presentations.

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported in part by the generosity of Museum members and donors and by the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas/Office of Cultural Affairs and the Texas Commission on the Arts.


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