Denene De Quintal

New Grant Supports Native Arts Postdoctoral Fellowship

It is my pleasure to be the inaugural Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow in American Indian Art in the Native arts department at the Denver Art Museum. I applied for this fellowship at the DAM because of its intent to “fill a need in the field of American Indian arts that will provide a high-level curatorial experience, opportunities, and mentorship for individuals who seek a career as a museum curator specializing in American Indian arts beyond that included in their academic training.”

My bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. all focused on cultural anthropology, with concentrations in Native American and Latin American studies. However, I have always had an interest in museums and how they represent different identities. During the research for my dissertation, which focused on race and Native American identity in Southern New England, I interned at a Native American museum in Rhode Island. During this time I worked closely with their Narragansett curator, who helped to curate my appreciation for museums and my desire to pursue a career in the field of American Indian art. This fellowship will be essential in helping me to develop and hone the skills I need to pursue a career as a curator.

My expertise is in the area of eastern tribes. I spent time in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts amongst the members of the Western and Eastern Pequot, the Narragansett, the Wampanoag, and the Schaghticoke. One distinguishing aspect of this fellowship was my move to the West. Moving west has brought me in closer proximity to the western tribes and introduced me to new concepts such as Indian art markets. This is also my first experience working in a world-renowned art museum and experiencing its many different departments, such as western art and Asian art. My previous experiences at the Smithsonian Institute and in Native museums limited my interaction solely to Native American collections.

My first project at the DAM involved a provenance project through which I became familiar with the Native arts department’s collection and card catalog. From my initial exposure to the collection, I have moved onto other projects including working on the exhibition design, label copy, and wall text for a major forthcoming DAM exhibition. I am also currently working on a conference paper about the diversity of museum patrons, donors, and staff. The major research project I proposed for this fellowship is examining the impact of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act on southern New England artists. Many southern New England artists are increasingly unable to exhibit and sell their work because of the act’s stipulation that Native artists must have a tribal identification card or Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood card. Through interviews and participant observation, I intend to illustrate how this act impacts both their Native American identity and their identity as artists.

Although it is still early in my fellowship, I have had many diverse learning experiences working in the Native arts department and with other departments. I look forward to my upcoming projects and exhibits.