Colonized through Art: American Indian Schools and Art Education, 1889-1915

Colonized through Art: American Indian Schools and Art Education, 1889-1915

Colonized through Art: American Indian Schools and Art Education, 1889-1915

Colonized through Art: American Indian Schools and Art Education, 1889-1915


Colonized through Art explores how the federal government used art education for American Indian children as an instrument for the "colonization of consciousness," hoping to instill the values and ideals of Western society while simultaneously maintaining a political, social, economic, and racial hierarchy.

Focusing on the Albuquerque Indian School in New Mexico, the Sherman Institute in Riverside, California, and the world's fairs and local community exhibitions, Marinella Lentis examines how the U.S. government's solution to the "Indian problem" at the end of the nineteenth century emphasized education and assimilation. Educational theories at the time viewed art as the foundation of morality and as a way to promote virtues and personal improvement. These theories made the subject of art a natural tool for policy makers and educators to use in achieving their assimilationist goals of turning student "savages" into civilized men and women. Despite such educational regimes for students, however, indigenous ideas about art oftentimes emerged "from below," particularly from well-known art teachers such as Arizona Swayney and Angel DeCora.

Colonized through Art explores how American Indian schools taught children to abandon their cultural heritage and produce artificially "native" crafts that were exhibited at local and international fairs. The purchase of these crafts by the general public turned students' work into commodities and schools into factories.


Every child enjoys drawing with colored pencils, crayons, and markers and putting on paper his ideas about the world around him. Similarly, children love to touch and feel things with their own hands, give shape to something out of nothing, to build, to invent. Her mind directs her hand into spontaneous compositions that sooner or later are going to reflect the environment in which she grows and through which she learns about reality. But when such natural and imaginative instincts are forcibly rectified and redirected toward what someone outside of the child’s circle deems more correct—the right imageries, the right shapes, the more appropriate color and usage—something is inevitably lost. in the child’s mind, a door that was once open to uncountable possibilities of exploration, experience, and knowledge is now all of a sudden closed, although not permanently locked. This unnatural imposition no longer allows the young person to grow and develop to his or her full potential, because the pleasurable creative act has now become an oppressive instrument for reshaping the world according to a different set of foreign and unfamiliar standards that do not value the individual’s own imagination, background, and heritage. This is the art training American Indian children received in government schools at the turn of the twentieth century. the purpose and content of that kind of training are the subjects of this book.

The establishment of boarding schools for American Indian children at the end of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of a systematized, government-sanctioned process of assimilation of the Indigenous . . .

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