Gallery Views of Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection

We will dance when our laws command us to dance, and we will feast when our hearts desire to feast. Do we ask the white man, "Do as the Indian does?" It is a strict law that bids us dance. It is a strict law that bids us distribute our property among our friends and neighbors. It is a good law. Let the white man observe his law, we shall observe ours. And now, if you come to forbid us dance, be gone. If not, you will be welcome to us.

-CHIEF O'WAXALAGALIS, KWAKWAKA'WAKW (KWAKIUTL), October 7, 1886, while addressing Franz Boas, the German-American anthropologist


Welcome to this exhibition, which surveys the achievements of North America's first artists. In these galleries you will find objects of transcendent beauty that span the continent-from the Arctic to the Southwest, and from the Eastern Woodlands to the Pacific West. In date, the artworks range from antiquity to the present but cluster in the 1800s, a period of tremendous change as the young American Republic expanded westward.

Native Americans take pleasure in the visual beauty of things made with imagination and skill, but they also prize qualities invisible in the finished work. These vary from place to place and may include the ritual correctness of gathering raw materials; sound construction and usefulness; the powers that come from an object's conception in a vision or dream; or how often an object has appeared in performances, feasts, and ceremonies, during which oratory, dance, song, and movement gave it animating force.

Some works bear witness to Native American artists' welcoming embrace of the new materials, techniques, and imagery introduced by Euro-Americans. Such objects record artists' ability to absorb without being absorbed, despite intense pressure to assimilate into Euro-American culture. They testify to their creators' ingenuity and resilience, and to the importance of the arts in sustaining traditions that have not vanished but continue today.

Organized by the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.


Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection is organized by the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, NY. This exhibition has been made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius. The Cleveland Museum of Art’s exhibition and education programs are made possible through the generous support of Dominion Foundation, Medical Mutual, and Giant Eagle. The Cleveland Museum of Art is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. The Ohio Arts Council helped fund this exhibition with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence, and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans.


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