ROBERT FAY SCHRADER, Marquette University


One significant element in the reform of United States policy toward the American Indians that occurred in the 1920s and 1930s was the promotion of Indian arts and crafts. Building on isolated and sporadic recognition in earlier decades of the value of Indian culture and the arts it produced, the new reform was a radical attempt to preserve and promote Indian arts and crafts. The objective was to utilize them to reestablish respect for Indian culture and to furnish substantial economic returns to depressed tribes. The movement began in 1919 with agitation from white artists and Indian advocates. It was pickd up by John Collier and his reform associates and gained momentum with the growing reform pressure associates and ganed momentum with the growing reform pressure accompanying the series of Indian affairs investigations in the late 1920s. Collier and other members of the Indian Defense Association initiated unsuccessful legislation during the Herbert Hoover administration and failed repeatedly to obtain active backing for Indian arts and crafts proposals from Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur and Commissioners of Indian Affairs Charles J. Rhoads and J. Henry Scattergood. Indian needs rapidly increased with the Depression era conditions, yet the Hoover administration blocked the positive action so desperately needed by the Indians particularly in the South-west. Under the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration in 1934, Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes appointed a committee to study and make recommendations concerning the whole problem of Indian arts and crafts in relation to the economic and cultural welfare of the American Indians. The committee's report called for the immediate creation of a government board to protect and promote the development of Indian arts and crafts. Growing New Deal opposition in Congress almost blocked implementation of that plan, for not until August 1935 did the legislation allowing creation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board become law. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Collier then faced even greater problems both in obtaining an appropriation to allow the Board to function and in finding the personnel he wanted to serve on the Board. Despite having voted to implement an Indian arts and crafts program, Congress did not provide funds for that purpose until ten months later. Even then Collier still had to obtain knowledgeable leadership for the management of the Board. Finally after a long search, he found in Rene d'Harnoncourt the talent he wanted to carry out his Indian arts and crafts plans. This study shows that under General Manager d'Harnoncourt the Board assisted in the establishment of standards for the use of official trademarks or certificates of genuineness for Navajo, Pueblo, and Hopi silver, for Navajo woven wool products, and for Alaskan Indian and Eskimo products; encouraged and directed the growth of Indian cooperative production and marketing enterprises; established a wider market for products; and promoted Indian arts and crafts by educating the public about the culture that produced those arts and crafts. A measurement of the Board's success came first at the Indian exhibit at the 1939 San Francisco Golden Gate Exposition and later at the 1941 Indian exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. An overall growth in the market resulted from the Board's assistance given to the Indians during the d'Harnoncourt years. More importantly, the government between 1936 and 1945 helped the Indians to help themselves and in the process helped to preserve their cultural heritage.

Recommended Citation

SCHRADER, ROBERT FAY, "THE INDIAN ARTS AND CRAFTS BOARD: AN ASPECT OF NEW DEAL INDIAN POLICY" (1981). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI8203778.