Navajo artist, Eyedazzler, about 1885. Wool, cotton, and dye; 80 x 63 in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of The Douglas Society, 1995.76.

Indigenous Arts of North America

Navajo artist, Eyedazzler, about 1885. Wool, cotton, and dye; 80 x 63 in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of The Douglas Society, 1995.76.

Collection Highlights

No Two Horns


No Two Horns (Hunkpapa Lakota, 1852-1942), Shield, about 1870. Leather, paint, and feathers; 17 3/4 in. (diameter). Denver Art Museum: Gift of Rev. C. W. Douglas, 1932.237

Nez Perce artist


Nez Perce artist, Shirt, about 1885. Leather, ermine, glass beads, and paint; 38 x 58 x 65 ½ in. (sleeves extended). Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1940.26

Tsomah Poolaw


Tsomah Poolaw (Mrs. George Poolaw) (Kiowa, 1870-1958), Cradle, 1897-98. Wood, leather, glass beads, and metal; 45 x 13 x 10½ in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1941.42

Ochethi Sakowin (Sioux) or Brule Band artist


This rare example of a beaded "box and border" robe, made and used by women, is extremely unusual. Nearly all others of this style were painted on hide rather than beaded. The design is said to represent the internal organs of the bison.

Sičhaŋǧu Lakȟóta artist, Robe, about 1870. Bison hide and beads; 94½ x 72 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1948.144

Nellie Two Bear Gates

Pipe Bag

Nellie Two Bear Gates (Yanktonai Dakota, 1854-1935), Pipe bag, about 1885. Leather, glass beads, and porcupine quills; 32¼ x 7 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1948.156

HOCK E AYE VI Edgar Heap of Birds

Inspired by Native American architectural forms and the Big Horn medicine wheel in Wyoming, Wheel is composed of ten tree forms arranged in a circular shape that is fifty feet in diameter. The trees are aligned to the summer solstice—on June 21, the sun rises in an opening to the east between the first and last trees. Artist HOCK E AYE VI Edgar Heap of Birds covered the forked red tree forms with text and imagery related to the history of Indian people in the United States and indigenous peoples elsewhere. Each tree addresses a specific theme, from conflict over resources to global cooperation among indigenous peoples. In addition to the tree forms, the sculpture incorporates a curved exterior wall of the museum, where the Cheyenne words nah-kev-ho-eyea-zim appear in raised letters. The phrase means “We are always returning back home again.”

HOCK E AYE VI Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne/ Arapaho, born 1954), Wheel, 1997-2005. Steel, porcelain, and stone; 144 x 24 x 24 in. (each fork); arranged in 50 ft. diameter circle. Denver Art Museum: Funds from Charles J. Norton by exchange, and funds from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, the AT&T Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Douglas Society, 1997.1452.1-11

Oscar Howe

Sioux Eagle Dancer
Oscar Howe challenged the definitions of Indian art with his unique and innovative style of creating figures in motion. By using lines and planes to emphasize movement, Howe both shocked and excited the Indian art world in the 1950s. Although some critics dismissed his work as derivative of European cubism, Howe maintained that his inspiration was firmly rooted in historic Sioux abstractions— such as those found in beadwork—as well as his own artistic creativity.

Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Dakota, 1915-1983), Sioux Eagle Dancer, 1954. Casein and damar paint on paper; 20 x 22 1/2  in. Denver Art Museum: Santa Fe Railroad Purchase Award, Fourth Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Indian Painting, 1954.261. Courtesy Estate of Oscar Howe

Standing Bear, Attributed to

Tipis were originally made of buffalo hides, but by 1875, with the decline of buffalo herds and the introduction of canvas, tipi makers shifted to using this lighter weight material. The drawings on the tipi show the artist’s personal experiences of intertribal battles between the Sioux and their Crow and Pawnee enemies. The warriors are rendered in scrupulously accurate detail that makes it possible to recognize different tribes by their distinctive hairstyles and clothing.

Attributed to Standing Bear (Minneconjou, 1859-1934), Tipi, about 1880. Paint, canvas, and wood frame; 184 x 252 x 156 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1963.271



The ancestors of the modern Hopi left evidence of rich pottery traditions. Villages such as Sikyatki, Awatovi, and Kawaikuh, inhabited from roughly 1400–1625, were close to Nampeyo’s home village of Hano and were actively being excavated at the end of the 1800s. Anthropologists and traders provided Nampeyo with firsthand opportunities to study the prehistoric ware found at these digs.
Nampeyo revived not only prehistoric patterns and forms in her work but also the traditional Hopi pottery-making process. By 1900, the artist had rediscovered Sikyatki clay sources. Rather than coating her pots with a colored slip, the artist painted her designs directly on the polished clay surface.
With her reputation established, Nampeyo soon began producing large, exceptionally painted pottery for a market of collectors. Though built upon prehistoric designs, vessels such as this represent a creative leap. The artist was no longer fashioning replicas but rather experimented with new designs as she fused elements of prehistoric patterns into innovative new compositions.


Nampeyo (Hopi-Tewa), Jar, 1900-1915. Painted ceramic; 9 7/8 x 11 ¾ in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of C.W. Douglas, 1929.72

Roxanne Swentzell

Mud Woman Rolls On
Artist Roxanne Swentzell says about this sculpture: " When asked to create a piece for the Denver Art Museum, I wanted the viewer to start with a perspective of Earth and Mother. Having a Mother made of clay is an appropriate beginning to our Native world. We are all from this Mother, all from this Earth: made of her and will return to her. The Mother holds the largest child, who’s holding the next child, who’s holding the next and so on. I love the idea that we all come from the Earth, generation after generation; an endless family of life . . . We are the Mothers of the next generation and the daughters of the last. Male or female, in the Pueblo world, we are “Mothers” (nurturers) of the generations to come . . . In a world that supports life it’s our work now, as it was for our parents and ancestors before us, and it will become the work of our children. The Mother figure is very large; the children are more human size. From this, perspective viewers see their place in creation more clearly. They view themselves in the context of generations from the beginning of time into the future, all connected. To hurt one part of the chain of life is to disrupt the flow that nurtures the generations to come. I believe this story is certainly one that needs telling at this time."

Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara, born 1962), Mud Woman Rolls On, 2011. Unfired and fired clay and plant fiber; 120 ¼ x 151 ½ x 81 5/8 in. Dedicated to Nancy Blomberg in gratitude for her service to the Denver Art Museum, 2010.570. © Roxanne Swentzell

Ason Yellowhair

Bird And Cornstalk Rug
Ason Yellowhair’s unique style is characterized by a large horizontal format, simple borders, and several rows of plants and birds running perpendicular to the weaving direction. She has shared her skill with her family, continuing a tradition that's been passed down from one generation to the next. This type of Navajo weaving is referred to as a pictorial rug. Although these rugs became common in the late 1800s, they were not sold as “art” until the 1900s. According to her daughter, Yellowhair based the stylized plants on Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum wrappers. The border is made up of a geometric pattern that is repeated all the way around the edge of the rug, framing the picture in the center.

Ason Yellowhair (Navajo, c. 1930-2013), Bird and Cornstalk Rug, 1983. Wool and dye; 94 x 131 in. The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving at the Denver Art Museum, 1984.4

Maria Martinez, Julian Martinez

Maria Martinez is probably the most famous American Indian potter of the twentieth century. She worked closely with her husband, Julian Martinez, who sometimes painted designs on the pottery she sculpted. This pot is one of the first they created using the matte black on polished black technique—a technique that became their signature. Their innovation shaped a new tradition for San Ildefonso pottery and influenced many artists both within and outside the Indian community.

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez (San Ildefonso, 1886-1880; 1885-1943), Bowl, about 1921. Clay; 8 ¾ x 14 in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of Frederic H. Douglas, 1954.454

Dan Namingha

Polacca #6
Dan Namingha comes from a family of distinguished artists. His great-great-grandmother was the famous potter Nampeyo, and many of his relatives are accomplished potters and carvers. As an abstract painter, Namingha seeks to transform images from his native experience into abstract, almost minimal forms. In Polacca #6, he incorporates the distinct silhouette of First Mesa, near Polacca on the Hopi reservation in Arizona, into a vivid abstraction of land and sky.

Dan Namingha (Hopi, born 1950), Polacca #6, 2001. Acrylic paint on canvas; 60 x 48 x 1 ½ in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of the Douglas Society, 2002.2

Daisy Taugelchee

Daisy Taugelchee is widely considered the most talented Navajo weaver and spinner who ever lived. This tapestry, in the Two Grey Hills style, is exceptionally fine—the weaving has more than ninety wefts and twenty warps per inch and took six miles of yarn to make. When the artist finished this rug in the late 1940s, she said she’d never again attempt anything so difficult.

Daisy Taugelchee (Navajo, 1911-1990), Rug, 1947-1948. Wool and dye; 69 ½ x 49 ½ in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1948.445

Yupik artist


Yupik artist, Mask, 1900. Wood, grass, feathers, paint, shell, and fish; 23 5/8 x 7 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1953.396

George Walkus

Four-faced Hamat'sa Mask
Wood carving is a highly developed art among Northwest Coast tribes, including the Kwakwaka’wakw. This mask represents a bird-monster called Galokwudzuwis, or “Crooked Beak,” and is worn by a member of the Hamat’sa Society. Above the “crooked beak” is the head of a crane, while two raven heads project from the back of the mask. Although the photograph shows the mask’s graceful lines and bold, traditional colors of red, white, and black, it doesn’t show the complex moving parts that are worked by pulling a series of strings to create sound and movement during the dance.

George Walkus (Kwakwaka'wakw), Four-faced Hamat'sa Mask, about 1938. Wood, paint, cedar bark, and string; 21 x 51 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition fund, 1948.229

Nuu-chah-nulth artist

Harpooner's Hat
Whale hunting was a very important activity among the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples of Vancouver Island. A highly accomplished basketry artist intertwined strands of plant fiber to portray the pictorial hunting scenes on the sloping sides of this hat. Look closely to see how she created whales being chased by men in large canoes throwing their harpoons.

Nuu-chah-nulth artist, Harpooner’s Hat, 1794. Spruce root and bear grass; 10 3/8 x 9 ½ in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1952.607

Wailaki artist

Condor Cape
Artists in native California were masters at using the feathers of birds large and small. Here, the feathers of gigantic condors are accented with a few flicker feathers to make a resplendent cape. Imagine a dancer wrapped in these large wing feathers as they floated gracefully across his shoulders and back, accentuating his movements. Only a handful of these rare capes still exist today.

Wailaki artist, Condor Cape, late 1800s. Condor feathers and cord; 36 x 27 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1950.150

Elizabeth Hickox

Karuk artists of the 1800s wove exceptional baskets for home use as well as for ceremonial purposes. By the twentieth century, community needs diminished as hand woven baskets were replaced by commercial goods. The talented mother-daughter team of Elizabeth and Louise Hickox earned widespread recognition for the baskets they created for a new market of Anglo collectors. Drawing upon their formidable skills as weavers combined with their artistic vision, they created an entirely new basket form with graceful, incurving sides topped off with dramatic elongated knobs.

Elizabeth Hickox (Karuk, 1875-1947), Basket, about 1914. Plant fiber and porcupine quill; 5½ x 6 in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1950.249A-B

Harry Fonseca

Shuffle Off to Buffalo #V
In his art, Harry Fonseca transforms Coyote, the trickster character in California Indian stories, into a contemporary Native American figure. Fonseca often sets Coyote in an urban setting, dressed in a leather jacket and high-tops. He has become as much an assertive character as a humorous one. In this painting, Coyote takes the stage as Uncle Sam. Fonseca presents him as a stage actor and as an emblematic government figure. The glittering gold frame resembles frames used on Renaissance and baroque paintings—a reference to art history.

Harry Fonseca (Maidu), Shuffle Off to Buffalo #V, 1983. Acrylic paint and mixed media on canvas; 60 x 48 in. (152.4 x 121.9 cm). Denver Art Museum: William Sr. and Dorothy Harmsen Collection, by exchange, 2005.63. © 2016 Harry Fonseca Collection, Autry Museum of the American West

Creek artist

Bandolier Bag
Elaborately beaded bags created by Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole artists reflect the high point of the beadworkers’ art. While the shape of these men’s shoulder bags was most likely inspired by those worn by British soldiers in the 1700s, their designs were strictly native. Complex floral and geometric motifs intertwine from the point of the flap to the curve of the neck strap. Less commonly, humans and animals were depicted. The meanings of these patterns are largely lost, but they surely conveyed important personal and cultural information for both the weaver and the observer.

Creek artist, Bandolier Bag, about 1840. Cloth and glass beads; 31 ½ x 9 ¼ x 8 5/8 in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of Frederic H. Douglas, 1954.201

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Department History

The strength of any museum collection is largely driven by the vision, savvy, and motivation of the department’s curatorial team. Here at the Denver Art Museum, our Native arts department has had the good fortune of being under the guidance of some very strong visionaries, who were leaders in their field. We are proud of our legacy and take this moment to acknowledge the past curators and influencers who started us on our path.

The origin of the Native Arts department in 1925 is tied to the beginning of the Indigenous Arts of North America collection championed by Anne Evans, one of the founders of the DAM. She not only donated her own personal collection, but encouraged the support of friends with her enthusiastic and spirited patronage. These first years were led by curator Edgar McMechan (1925-1928). Four years later, in 1929, Frederic Huntington Douglas was hired. An art historian and anthropologist, he achieved national renown for his pioneering efforts to promote the understanding and appreciation of American Indian art as fine art and not solely artifact. During his nearly three-decade long career at the DAM (1929-1956), he assembled one of the most comprehensive collections of American Indian art, supported by a series of scholarly publications and groundbreaking exhibitions that influenced the direction of American museology, art history, and anthropology. During the 1930s, Douglas served as a commissioner on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. In 1939 he worked with then IACB director René d’Harnoncourt and a few others to plan and direct the “Indian Court” at the Golden Gate Exposition. In 1941, he and d’Harnoncourt co-curated the landmark exhibition Indian Art of the United States at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Douglas identified early the importance of working directly with Indigenous artists and making collections accessible to Indigenous communities. Over the course of his time at DAM he developed strong connections with such artists and community leaders as Ella Deloria (Yankton Dakota), Nampeyo of Hano (Hopi/Tewa), Mary Littlebear Inkanish (Cheyenne), and Maria Martinez (San Ildefonso). Douglas recognized the importance of collecting arts created at all points in time, which helped DAM develop strong collections of early and mid-20th century Indigenous arts. It was under the direction of Douglas that the DAM expanded the Native Arts collecting focus to include African and Oceanic arts (Douglas developed an interest in Oceanic arts while serving in the South Pacific during World War II). This foundational work set the tone for the direction of the Native Arts department.

Royal Hassrick then led the department from 1957 to 1962 before becoming DAM’s assistant director from 1964 to 1967. He was a prolific author and dedicated researcher. Prior to coming to DAM, he served as curator of the South Plains Indian Museum for the U.S. Department of Interior in Oklahoma from 1948 to 1952 and then assistant general manager of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board for the Department of Interior from 1952 to 1954. Like Douglas, Hassrick served as a commissioner on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board while a curator at DAM.

Norman Feder, a pioneer in the field of Native American art history and material culture, served as the curator of Native Arts at the DAM from 1961 to 1971. Feder had a deep interest in and a discerning eye for Indigenous arts. With a background as a hobbyist before coming to the museum, Feder belonged to a community of amateurs who specialized in the manufacture of artworks using Indigenous techniques and designs. While today such a background receives a critical response by Indigenous people, at that time his understanding of Native American techniques and styles allowed him to contribute meticulous, collections-based documentation to the study of Indigenous North American visual culture. It also allowed him to assist institutions in identifying what was and was not “authentic” in their collections. Through his passion, Feder inspired a new generation of anthropologists and historians of Indigenous material culture. During his time at DAM, Feder collected broadly and significantly expanded the museum's collections of African, Indigenous North American, and Oceanic arts.

Richard G. Conn served two non-consecutive terms at the DAM. The first predated Hassrick and Feder from 1956-1957, but Conn returned in 1972 as the curator of Native Arts, later advancing to become DAM’s first chief curator where he remained until his retirement in 1994. Conn brought with him an interest and understanding of Native Northwest Coast arts, fueled by his youth spent in Bellingham Washington, as well as a strong focus on Indigenous clothing. Over the course of his career, Conn, like his predecessors, became a generalist, and his publications eventually covered a wide range of topics related to the traditional clothing of Indigenous people, including the works of the Plains, Plateau, and Southwest regions as well as the history of glass trade beads in North America. He also helped start up the DAM Friendship Pow Wow in 1990 to serve and honor the local Native community. This Pow Wow has taken place every year since, including a virtual iteration in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nancy Blomberg came to DAM in 1990 as an associate curator, tasked with carrying on the trail-blazing work of the previous foundational leaders. In 1993 she was promoted to curator and Native Arts department head, and was then promoted to DAM’s chief curator in 2011. With the endowment of the position of Native Arts department head in 2016, she became DAM’s inaugural Andrew W. Mellon curator of Native Arts. She led the department until her untimely death in 2018. Importantly, Nancy’s commitment to building relationships with Native communities took center stage in her curatorial practice, and she changed the way the Denver Art Museum valued Indigenous perspectives. Abandoning a persistent hierarchy, Blomberg began actively listening to Indigenous people as they shared their knowledge and wisdom with the institution. This led to a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of Indigenous material culture, and removed some of the hierarchies inherent in museums and often problematic for Native communities. In her tenure, Blomberg established the DAM as a leader in the implementation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). She specialized in classic Navajo textiles and was recognized for her groundbreaking reinstallation of DAM’s Indigenous art galleries in 2011 which brought focus to Indigenous artist in many new ways.

Over the course of the department’s history, many others served as assistant and associate curators. Kate Peck Kent worked closely with Frederic Douglas as an assistant curator in the 1930s and 1940s before going on to have a highly successful career as an anthropologist specializing in Navajo and Pueblo textiles. David Irving was an assistant curator who worked with Richard Conn from 1979 to 1984 and was a specialist in Navajo textiles. Ryntha Johnson served as an assistant curator for a time before moving on to positions at the St. Louis Art Museum and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Rodger Echo-Hawk was assistant curator from 1994 to 2005 and was instrumental in working with DAM and various tribes on NAGPRA reviews and claims. During this time, he published Keepers of Culture which provides case studies on NAPGRA claims, and it remains a vital resource to tribes and museums today. Echo-Hawk is now a historian and published author. Moyo Okediji was DAM’s first assistant curator specializing in African arts from 1999 to 2008 and was instrumental in advancing scholarship and attention to DAM’s collection of African arts. He is now professor of African art and art history at the University of Texas, Austin. Polly Nordstrand was associate curator from 2004 to 2009 and was instrumental in bringing in key acquisitions of Indigenous contemporary art to the collection. This attention to contemporary art renewed DAM’s commitment to collecting such work and engaging living artists. Nordstrand is now curator of Southwest art at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center at Colorado College. Additionally, the Native Arts department began a curatorial fellowship program in 2016 with funds from the Andew W. Mellon Foundation. The inaugural fellow was Denene DeQuintal (2016-18) who has gone on to become assistant curator of Native American art at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the current fellow is Christopher Patrello (2018-21).

Today, John P. Lukavic leads the department as the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Native Arts. He came to DAM in 2012 as assistant curator of Native Arts and was then promoted to associate curator and later curator. Dakota Hoska came to DAM as assistant curator of Native Arts in 2019. Together Lukavic and Hoska continue DAM’s long history of collecting, developing exhibitions, and scholarship, and both hope to continue and improve upon the good work started by their predecessors. The way in which we present Native arts at the Denver Art Museum is progressive, inclusive, and considerate of critiques of past museum practices. We encourage the integration of diverse arts into broader contexts to promote dialog and challenge our visitors to expand their understandings and appreciation for such arts.


Recent DAM publications on American Indian art that the department has contributed expertise to include:

Companion to Northwest Coast and Alaska Native Art. Christopher Patrello, with Christoph Heinrich, John P. Lukavic, Gwaai Edenshaw, Marianne Nicolson, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, and Jaad Kuujus (Meghann O’Brien). Denver Art Museum, 2020.

Jeffrey Gibson: Like A Hammer. John P. Lukavic, with Glenn Adamson, Anne Ellegood, Jen Mergel, and Sara Raza. Denver Art Museum in association with Delmonico/Prestel, 2018.

Art in Motion: Native American Explorations of Time, Place, and Thought. John P. Lukavic and Laura Caruso with Kristin Dowell, Charlene Holy Bear, Aldona Jonaitis, Leena Minifie, Kent Monkman, and Daniel C. Swan. Denver Art Museum, 2016.

Super Indian: Fritz Scholder 1967–1980. John P. Lukavic, with Jessica Horton, Eric Berkemeyer, and Kent Logan. Denver Art Museum in association with Delmonico/Prestel, 2015.

Revolt 1680/2180: Virgil Ortiz. Edited by John Lukavic, essay by Charles King, foreword by Herman Agoyo. Denver Art Museum, 2015.

Grand Procession: Artistic Visions of American Indians, The Diker Collection at the Denver Art Museum. Lois Dubin. Denver Art Museum, 2010.

[Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art. Edited by Nancy J. Blomberg. Denver Art Museum, 2010.

Action and Agency: Advancing the Dialogue on Native Performance Art. Edited by Nancy J. Blomberg. Denver Art Museum, 2010.

Breaking the Mold: The Virginia Vogel Mattern Collection of Contemporary Native American Art. Nancy J. Blomberg and Polly Nordstrand. Denver Art Museum, 2006.

Reflections of the Weaver’s World: The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving. Ann Lane Hedlund. Denver Art Museum, 1992.

Research & Symposia

The Denver Art Museum’s extensive research library consists of 20,000+ books and periodicals related to American Indian, First Nations, and Alaska Native arts and cultures. Additionally, the Native Arts department files include archival field notes and records from its nearly 100 year history.

Biannual Symposium on American Indian Art

Every other year the Native arts department hosts a symposium on topics related to American Indian art. Through this event the scholarly dialog on American Indian art is advanced.

Past symposia includes:

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Membership and Museum Friends

Membership at the Denver Art Museum not only provides you discounts and access, but also the satisfaction of knowing your support helps us preserve and share art with present and future generations. Become a member today and see just how much the museum has to offer!

Are you interested in a specific type of art, while also enjoying opportunities to participate across the museum? If so, consider deepening your support by adding Museum Friends to your membership. Museum Friends enjoy access to free lectures, a deeper dive into a department of interest, and invitations to social gatherings for that department of interest.

Lit up hallway of the newly renovated Martin Building

The Martin Building Project

The gallery for this collection is closed during the Martin Building renovation project. Standing seven stories tall, the Martin Building will house collection galleries, a conservation laboratory, interactive classroom space, a family activity center, two restaurants, and the brand new Anna and John J. Sie Welcome Center. It will reopen October 24, 2021.