Colonized through Art


Colonized through Art

American Indian Schools and Art Education, 1889–1915

Marinella Lentis

450 pages
52 illustrations, 12 tables, 3 appendixes, index


August 2017


$65.00 Add to Cart

September 2021


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eBook (PDF)
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August 2017


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eBook (EPUB)
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August 2017


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About the Book

Colonized through Art explores how the federal government used art education for American Indian children as an instrument for the “colonization of consciousness,” hoping to instill the values and ideals of Western society while simultaneously maintaining a political, social, economic, and racial hierarchy.

Focusing on the Albuquerque Indian School in New Mexico, the Sherman Institute in Riverside, California, and the world’s fairs and local community exhibitions, Marinella Lentis examines how the U.S. government’s solution to the “Indian problem” at the end of the nineteenth century emphasized education and assimilation. Educational theories at the time viewed art as the foundation of morality and as a way to promote virtues and personal improvement. These theories made the subject of art a natural tool for policy makers and educators to use in achieving their assimilationist goals of turning student “savages” into civilized men and women. Despite such educational regimes for students, however, indigenous ideas about art oftentimes emerged “from below,” particularly from well-known art teachers such as Arizona Swayney and Angel DeCora.

Colonized through Art explores how American Indian schools taught children to abandon their cultural heritage and produce artificially “native” crafts that were exhibited at local and international fairs. The purchase of these crafts by the general public turned students’ work into commodities and schools into factories.


Author Bio

Marinella Lentis is an independent researcher specializing in historical Native arts and education.


"Readers who are interested in the residential schools, art education, the Arts and Crafts Movement, or the implementation of federal Indian policy at the onset of the twentieth century will find Colonized through Art an original and engrossing addition to the existing literature in these areas. Lentis greatly expands our understanding of how the residential schools promoted assimilation through art and of the ways that Native students used their art for creative expressions of resistance."—Melissa D. Parkhurst, Western Historical Quarterly

“Lentis breaks new ground in explaining the presence of arts and crafts . . . in government schools that otherwise ‘suppressed every aspect of Indian cultures, traditions, and languages.’. . . Well worth the read.”—Lisa K. Neuman, American Historical Review

"Studies of federal Indian schooling have spawned a variety of approaches to the contested subject, but in Colonized through Art the independent scholar Marinella Lentis has moved the discussion in a new direction by evaluating the impact of art education in these schools."—Margaret Connell-Szasz, Journal of American History

"In Colonized through Art: American Indian Schools and Art Education, 1889–1915, Marinella Lentis provides an extensively researched study of art education in U.S. government operated boarding schools for American Indian students at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries."—John Reyhner, Pacific Northwest Quarterly

“Marinella Lentis deftly lays out the terrain of Indian school art programs. . . . A significant contribution to the field, Colonized through Art clearly, succinctly, and broadly expands our knowledge of the ways government officials pushed assimilation through art—not to mention the resistance many Native students creatively expressed.”—Linda M. Waggoner, author of Fire Light: The Life of Angel De Cora, Winnebago Artist

"Colonized through Art provides a thorough historical account of how white, Euro-American superintendents, curriculum writers, and teachers implemented cultural assimilation, which was manifested in public displays through nineteenth- and early twentieth-century boarding schools."—Kevin Slivka, History of Education Quarterly  

"I highly recommend the volume and believe it to be essential reading for those studying the Native American boarding school system in the United States."—Mackenzie J. Cory, Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

Table of Contents

 List of Illustrations    
List of Tables    
List of Abbreviations    
1. Art “Lifts Them to Her Own High Level”: Nineteenth-Century Art Education    
2. “An Indispensable Adjunct to All Training of This Kind”: The Place of Art in Indian Schools    
3. “Show Him the Needs of Civilization and How to Adapt His Work to the Needs of the Hour”: Native Arts and Crafts in Indian Schools    
4. “The Administration Has No Sympathy with Perpetuation of Any Except the Most Substantial of Indian Handicraft”: Art Education at the Albuquerque Indian School    
5. “Drawing and All the Natural Artistic Talents of the Pupils Are Encouraged and Cultivated”: Art Education at Sherman Institute    
6. “Susie Chase-the-Enemy and Her Friends Do Good Work”: Exhibits from Indian Schools at Fairs and Expositions    
7. “The Comparison with the Work of White Scholars Is Not Always to the Credit of the Latter”: Art Training on Display at Educational Conventions        
Appendix A: List of Fairs, Expositions, and Educational Conventions That Featured Indian School Exhibits    
Appendix B: Day, Reservation, and Non-Reservation Schools Represented at Major National and International Fairs    
Appendix C: Layouts of Minneapolis and Boston Exhibits    

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