RESOLUTE: Native Nations Art in the Bruce Collection

Zuni Polychrome jar, New Mexico, C. 1882. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Horton, 80.28

November 7, 2021 – January 21, 2022, Guest Curator Kirsten J. Reinhardt

GREENWICH, CT—The rich diversity of Native American nations, which includes hundreds of distinct cultures and languages shared by millions of people, is celebrated in this exhibition of objects from the Bruce Museum’s Native American Collection. Each unique piece represents the creative vision of an artist within the structured cultural context of their location and tribal identity. 

Included are Native-made objects that were made for tribal use and designed and manufactured specifically for the tourist trade. From this commercial market rose the individual Native artists who developed a singular style within and at the same time outside the tribal style. These artists have the dual responsibility of providing economic security while maintaining their unique cultural identity.

There are at least two stories behind each object in the Bruce Collection. First, the story of the maker who conceived of and created the object. Second, the person who recognized the importance and the artistic integrity of the object and acquired it for posterity. These stories of our shared American history can and should be told.

In light of important conversations about how museums acquired their collections, the Bruce Museum undertook a study of the acquisition process of its Native American collections. Genealogical and historic research has shed light on important figures in American history and the on Greenwich residents who contributed their collections to the Bruce Museum. Research also revealed that the collection was obtained without force or nefarious intent. 

Squash Blossom Necklace, Artist Once Know: He/His, Diné, (Navajo) Pre-1970, Gift of the Estate of Elizabeth S. Haas Shawgrass 2019.18 
Bruce Museum Collection

Collaboration with Native scholars and culture leaders has verified the work of known Native artists who made significant contributions to American art history. Correspondence with Native knowledge experts and elders from the Mohegan Tantaquidgeon Museum, the Mashantucket-Pequot tribe, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, the Delaware Tribe, the Choctaw Nation, the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, the Zuni, the Diné and the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes has expanded the interpretation of numerous objects in the collection.

The variety of objects in the collection demonstrates the diversity of ways of knowing, being, and doing within Native American cultures. Native artists have used culturally significant colors, symbols, and patterns to express pride and to reclaim the authority of tribal cultural memory. Native people continue to be resolute, choosing to maintain the resolve necessary to achieve self-determination.