Beneath the Surface: The Aesthetic and Ideological Appropriation of Native American Art during the Arts and Crafts Period, 1880–1920
Brandon K. Ruud
Advisor: Professor Ellen Taylor Baird
During the last decades of the nineteenth century and into the first two of the twentieth, progressive reformers concerned themselves with a variety of social issues that seemed to be altering the very fabric of American society and its spirit, among them immigration, industrialization, and urbanization. Ideologues harnessed the Arts and Crafts movement’s message of dignity in labor and a return to handcrafting to advance an agenda of reform that encompassed the fine and decorative arts and was designed to improve health, housing, and immigration. To their minds, art had the power to enact change through the social engineering of society as a whole and especially children, providing a method of redirecting attitudes during a period of seeming upheaval.
Expanding on previous scholarship, this study surveys the fine and decorative arts created during this period through the lens of postcolonial theory and examines how artists and critics depicted both Anglo-American and Native American labor in images and words. More to the point, however, the project provides the first thorough analysis of how reform crusaders employed Native American art and lifeways as a guiding force to enact change and control society: Perceived as instinctual and spiritual, indigenous art and craft provided an improving antidote to the perceived degradation of American culture and society.
During this period, as the middle class expanded and interior design gained traction as a professional pursuit, domestic shelter magazines rose in popularity. This study provides a careful investigation of both the images and prose in the pages of these journals, considering how they furthered the movement’s reform agenda by co-opting Native American art and culture for an Anglo-American audience. In addition, the project focuses on how artists and architects during this period—from painters such as Thomas Eakins and George de Forest Brush to architects and designers including Susan Frackelton, Gustav Stickley, and Frank Lloyd Wright—adopted the mantle of reformist theories regarding America’s indigenous population, and, as a result, wrestled with incorporating non-Western sources into their creations and justifying their presence.||en_US