American Indian Art Collection

American Indian Galleries

On Nov. 11, 2009, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art unveiled a new suite of American Indian galleries honoring and giving new emphasis to the artistic achievement of Native peoples from across North America.

With more than 6,100 square feet, the three galleries are among the largest devoted to American Indian art in any comprehensive art museum in the world and quadruples the amount of space previously devoted to American Indian art at the Nelson-Atkins.

The American Indian collection encompasses important works from all North American culture areas, dating from pre-contact to the present, and includes pottery, basketry, quill and beadwork, textiles, painting and sculpture.

The core collection was established at the time of the Museum’s opening in 1933 with major purchases from the Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation (now the National Museum of the American Indian) and the Fred Harvey Company, reflecting the Nelson-Atkins’ endeavor to present Native artistic traditions as an important part of our national heritage.

The collection’s greatest depth is in a group of classic Navajo and Pueblo textiles, nearly encyclopedic in range of exceptional quality, and a superb selection of Rio Grande Pueblo pots, including what is perhaps the finest known early 19th century Santa Ana/Zia jar. The Southwestern collection also includes stellar works from mid-20th century jewelry masters Leekya and Lambert Homer.

In 2009, the Museum gratefully accepted a gift of pivotal importance—the private collection of Pacific Northwest works of art from Morton and Estelle Sosland—which are part of the new galleries. Click here for more details about this extraordinary gift from the Sosland family.

The diverse bodies of works in the collection include a number of objects recognized as masterpieces of their kind. A few of the most notable include a magnificent Cheyenne eagle feather war bonnet; a rare and important Chumash basket; one of the great shaman’s frontlets collected from the Tlingit; and an exquisitely beaded Kiowa cradle attributed to Tahdo.

The holdings of Plains, Prairie and Woodland art have grown significantly in both strength and diversity over the past seven decades through numerous gifts. Among the most important is the earliest book of drawings by renowned Kiowa artist Silver Horn; a rare, fully appointed, 18th century Delaware spirit doll; one of the few fully beaded Crow boy’s shirts; and one of the three earliest known Great Lakes beaded bandolier bags.

Recently, the Donald D. Jones bequest of 170 works representing a wide range of objects and tribal groups was recently added, providing an 18th century human effigy wooden pipe bowl from the Midwest; a powerful Lakota war club carved in the representation of a bear’s head; and a modern toy cradle by Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty. These Museum holdings were amplified by a long-term loan of 600 Plains Indian objects from Conception Abbey, Missouri, which includes a Lakota dress regarded as an icon of 19th century Plains pictographic drawing.

The collection achieved new prominence in 2002 with the establishment of the Department of American Indian Art.  This varied group includes a number of masterworks from earlier periods together with several pieces by contemporary artists, reflecting the Museum’s new focus on the achievement and recognition of Native artists working today. The most important of these include a remarkable visionary shield from the Arikara; a Mississippian human head effigy jar, widely recognized as the finest of its type; an exceptionally rare 17th-century Algonquian feast bowl; and a superb black-dyed, quilled tab bag from the central Woodlands.

The growing contemporary collection includes important ceramic works by Santa Clara potter Roxanne Swentzell and Cochiti artist Diego Romero and a traditionally inspired horse stick by Lakota artist Butch Thunder Hawk.