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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.

In this last section, there is also a book for people with firsthand knowledge to write down their recollections of the Harvey Company. Sadly, alongside the thoughtful remarks of old-timers, kids have scribbled nonsense in the book, marring its pages.

Inventing the Southwest: The Fred Harvey Company and Native American Art is a must-see on several fronts. Superficially, it's a spectacular array of the finest American Indian material anywhere. But it is also a sociological and historical exploration of a single company's incredible role in fostering the continuing place of American Indian art in our culture.

Inventing the Southwest: The Fred Harvey Company and Native American Art, through January 24, 1999, at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 303-640-4433.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia