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

By Eldridge, Laurie | Studies in Art Education, July 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

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


Eldridge, Laurie, Studies in Art Education


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.

Early Native American Education Policy

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has been involved in the education of Native American students since the late 19th century. Indian education policy prior to the New Deal era focused on assimilation of Native students into mainstream American society. This was thought to be best accomplished by replacing "savagism" with "civilization" (Adams, 1995). The annihilation of traditional Indian cultures was seen as the removal of a major roadblock to civilization. This cultural annihilation included preventing students from practicing their traditional religions and speaking their Native languages. Creating images of their homes, rituals, or creating other aspects of their visual and material cultures also was discouraged. Consequently art instruction was not usually a part of Indian education. However, some groups of people who were predominantly White AngloSaxons worked to change this government policy. …

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