By Show and Tell
By Bree Davies
By Bree Davies
By Cory Casciato
By Emilie Johnson
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davis
By Josiah M. Hesse
When Fred Harvey died in 1901, the company passed on to his son, Ford Harvey. At this time, Ford's sister, Minnie Harvey Huckel, suggested establishing what would come to be called The American Indian Department and Museum. It took the Harvey Company more than five years to put together the collection it unveiled at the chain's flagship operation, the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque. The company also presented displays of American Indian art that traveled to the great department stores in the East and Midwest. At first the intention was purely promotional, with objects for display only, but so many people expressed a keen interest in the artifacts that the company began to market them as gift and decorative items. The DAM show includes photos of the Alvarado's early sales room, paired with the actual objects depicted in these photos.
At the Alvarado, artifacts were arranged in roomlike settings, complete with fireplace mantels, to give tourists decorating ideas. The Harvey Company benefited from the concurrent Arts and Crafts movement, which was a decorative-art reaction to Victorian artistic excesses. American Indian art, with its strong sense of geometry, fit in perfectly with the straight lines of the Arts and Crafts style.
And the company's marketing spurred appreciation for Indian art, which in turn increased production--and led to basic changes in the forms. In ceramics, for example, traditional Indian vessels were used to hold water or flour and were therefore fairly large. Tourists, though, could not travel with large pots, so the Indian artisans made miniature copies for sale. Thus was born the Indian pot as vase, a decorating item that is still popular--but has no direct antecedent in traditional Indian pottery.
The DAM's show includes "before" and "after" examples, though the earlier items dominate. A large display includes magnificent functional pots in the various styles unique to individual Indian cultures. Several of these pots are real standouts, including a Zia water jar from the 1870s. This piece, in the baluster form, is covered with geometric and naturalistic decorations carried out in elaborate line drawings. Elsewhere in the show is a 1905 Zia water jar. Made to be sold, this jar is notably simpler than the older, traditional example and is more clearly inspired by the Arts and Crafts style, with a checkerboard motif made from drawings of flowers. Between the two we see the transition from functional to decorative. Baskets, originally meant for storage, were also miniaturized. And in the case of jewelry, artists invented lighter and redesigned versions of ceremonial pieces.
The Harvey Company also promoted the mystique of the American Indians by commissioning paintings by famous artists, including Thomas Moran and E. Irving Couse. Moran was given a free room in the Grand Canyon hotel in exchange for the paintings he produced while he stayed there. In addition, the company published handsomely illustrated books by established anthropologists and even produced kitsch items such as Indian-themed playing cards.
But the Harvey Company was not just interested in marketing souvenirs to the common visitor. The American Indian Department collected antiques and commissioned monumental works. This material filled the Harvey Company's private vault--where entrance was forbidden to all but a few trusted employees. Even millionaire William Randolph Hearst was denied entry--and he complained about it bitterly in correspondence with Herman Schweizer, the self-trained anthropologist who ran the Alvarado operation. The Harvey show at the DAM focuses on these special pieces, including several items collected by Hearst. But today, even the Alvarado sales room's most common fare is worthy of museum presentation.
Among the Harvey Company's most interesting marketing efforts were elaborate exhibits presented in 1915 at two rival expositions, the Panama-California in San Diego and the Panama-Pacific International in San Francisco, and the DAM's show includes a large section devoted to these fairs. On the San Diego fairgrounds, the company erected a multi-story pueblo as the centerpiece of a Painted Desert exhibit in which then unknown but today renowned potters Julian and Maria Martinez lived and worked for a year and a half. "They were so little-known at the time, promotional mate-rial for the fair doesn't even mention them, but they can be clearly seen in period photos," Blomberg says of the potters. In San Francisco, a large Grand Canyon exhibit had fairgoers traveling through several buildings on a small train--"just like Disneyland," Blomberg says.
Near the end of the show is a special display of the Harvey items in the DAM's Native Arts collection. Though they're not all on display here, the museum holds one hundred pieces purchased by Frederick Douglas, the DAM's American Indian curator from 1929 to 1956. Some of these artifacts are extremely fine and rare.
The efforts of the Harvey Company may appear exploitative, and to some extent, they were. But most of those Indian artists contacted by the exhibit's originators, Howard and Pardue, recalled a positive and financially beneficial relationship with the company. And without question, the Harvey Company engendered a renaissance in American Indian art.
That point is clearly made in the exhibit's conclusion, which takes up the topic of contemporary Indian art made by the descendants of artists who sold their wares through the Harvey Company and brings the viewer up to the present. Particularly notable is the gorgeous 1995 "Redware jar," by Tammy Garcia of the Santa Clara Pueblo. The bottle-form vase is covered in raised abstract decorations arranged in vertical ribs. Another compelling entry is the goofy but luxurious "Tourism/Route 66 belt buckle," made by Gail Bird and Yazzie Johnson in 1995 out of silver and turquoise.