Bard Graduate Center Logo Why Come to Hear Ira Jacknis?

Ira Jacknis (The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, UC Berkeley) will give a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Thursday, January 30, at 12:15 pm. His talk is entitled, “Art or Anthropology: Collecting Navajo Textiles in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, 1900–45.”

The first half of the twentieth century was a critical period for the production and consumption of Navajo textiles. The completion of the transcontinental railroad through Navajo country around 1880 spurred the development of a vast system of trading posts. Although private collectors snapped them up, it took a while before these textiles were thought suitable for most museum collections. This talk will be a case study of three of the principal regional centers for the collection of Navajo textiles.

In addition to the more expected venues of anthropology and natural history museums, many leading art museums also acquired Navajo textiles.  In Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts was a pioneer in the acquisition of Navajo textiles. Most were donated between 1900 and 1920 by two collectors:  Harvard design professor Denman Waldo Ross and mining engineer John Ware Willard. Although Harvard’s Peabody Museum was one of the first museums to acquire a Navajo blanket, most of its early Navajo textiles came only in the 1930s and early 1940s, donated by non-anthropological patrons. In New York, both the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art formed their collections at about the same time, in 1910; in fact, both with founding collections from the same patron, philanthropist Margaret Sage. Philadelphia tells a similar story. There, from 1900 on, the major collections were at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology, but there was a small collection of Navajo textiles at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. These specific cases illustrate double themes of textile appropriation: how Navajo weavings become transformed into vital elements of an Anglo world, while at the same time adopting differing evaluations—aesthetic vs. scientific—in that non-Native world.

This talk will take place in the Seminar Room at 38 West 86th Street and is open to the BGC community and invited guests. Please RSVP to