Dorothy Dunn and the Art Education of Native Americans: Continuing the Dialogue

By Eldridge, Laurie | Studies in Art Education, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview
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Dorothy Dunn and the Art Education of Native Americans: Continuing the Dialogue


Eldridge, Laurie, Studies in Art Education


Dorothy Dunn was an influential figure in both the history of Native American art and the history of art education. This article examines Dunn's influences on Native American art and the art education of Native Americans. It also considers Dunn's views and art education practices in context of some theories and practices that shaped art education prior to World War II. In this continuation of the dialogue begun by Smith (1999) and Stokrocki (2000) concerning the art education history of the American southwest I discuss Dunn's art education theories in light of their effect upon Native American authenticity and ethnic identity. Dunn, a progressive art educator for her time, made herself an expert and definer of Native American art. Native American artists either used Dunn's theories as a means to creative positive ethnic identities for themselves or reacted against her influence to create new definitions of Native American art and identity.

In 1932 Dorothy Dunn established the Studio, a painting program for Native American students, at Santa Fe Indian School. Dunn taught at the Studio for only 5 years; however, she was influential on the development of both art education for Native American students and Native American easel painting. Dunn taught several Native American students who became well known artists. Her teaching theories influenced the art education practices of several subsequent programs for Native American students. Her theories about Native American art influenced what was accepted and rejected by critics, galleries, collectors, museums, and the general public for decades.

Recently Smith (1999) and Stokrocki (2000) have called for more research on art education in the American southwest. Smith brings Dorothy Dunn into art education historical literature as an important historical figure in southwestern art education. Stokrocki praises Smith's efforts to make this major female art educator's work more visible and asks for more research about her. With this article I will continue the dialogue begun by Smith and Stokrocki concerning the work of Dorothy Dunn by exploring Dorothy Dunn's theories and art education practices. I will examine implications of Dunn's theories and art education practices for both the art education of Native American students and for Native American art. This study also can help fill the gap identified by Smith (1999) in existing art education historical literature concerning the art education of minority students.

I want to bring to the dialogue issues of identity and authenticity, which are important concerns in Native American art, and which are deeply intertwined with the history of art education for Native American students. Dunn's art teaching, the exhibition of her students' works, and her publications helped to codify ideas about Native American identity, Native American art, and its authenticity for both Native people and nonNatives. Some Native American artists found in Dunn's influences the means to create positive identities for themselves as Native people. Others rejected Dunn's influences and from this rejection created a different basis for their Native American identities and established new directions in Native American art.

Stokrocki (2000) asked that the voices of Native Americans and women be brought forth in research about the history of art education in the American southwest. Although I have not conducted the ethnohistories of Native Americans and women that Stokrocki rightly calls for, as a Native American woman researcher who has chosen to write on this topic I do bring one such voice to the dialogue.

Dorothy Dunn herself published in both the literature of art education and the literature of Native American art studies. To date, very little has been published about Dunn in art education historical literature. Consequently, many of the secondary sources that I use for this paper come from the field of Native American art studies.

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