The Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts, Santa Fe major exhibition of Native American Art, Connoisseurship and Good Pie: Ted Coe and Collecting Native Art was held from July 25, 2015–April 17, 2016.
Ralph T. “Ted” Coe was a curator, museum director, connoisseur, and collector known to travel hours out of his way to discover a new Native artist or a good slice of pie. The exhibition was a collaboration with the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The exhibition explored the study of Native American art through Coe’s career and collections. Coe was a pioneer in Native Art studies, curating landmark exhibitions, writing seminal books, and promoting Native art connoisseurship. Trained as an art historian specializing in European art, Coe ultimately found his life’s passion in collecting Native American Art and worked tirelessly to expand the public’s understanding and appreciation of traditional and contemporary forms, even as many connoisseurs, collectors, and even artists thought them to be lost. Largely self-taught through years of study and interactions with Native artists and community members, he elevated people’s appreciation and understanding of Native art and, importantly, the cultures and artists that created these works.
The exhibitions he organized, such as the groundbreaking international Sacred Circles, Two Thousand Years of North American Indian Art, as well as Lost and Found Traditions: Native American Art 1965-1985, both emphasized and empathetically presented artistry and people. These exhibitions proved to museum audiences that the art of Native Americans could meet the highest standards of any culture.
The Coe Center is the beneficiary of Coe’s life and work. He created the Coe Center to continue his life’s work and care for his collection of over 2300 artworks, which serve as catalysts in building broader appreciation and understanding of Indigenous art traditions.
Over 200 works are presented from the Coe Center collection in the exhibition, ranging from a nineteenth-century Haida Chilkat robe, a birchbark scale model of a cottage by Irene Desmoulin, a pair of nineteenth-century Cree snowshoes, a rare mid-eighteenth-century Cree or Ojibwe moosehide coat, and examples of beadwork by virtuoso artist Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty, including a stunning fully beaded horse mask. Presented in salon style, there was something for everyone in the exhibition, from every corner of North America.
Along the way, Coe befriended Native artists: “during the years I assembled my collections, I camped, attended feasts, ceremonies, and often just shared endless cups of coffee with Native people across most the US and large stretches of Canada.” Of the works in his collection, Ted Coe wrote, “They are not trophies but instruments of passion with the power to unexpectedly reveal mysteries.”
A full-color catalog is available through the Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts. The catalog was authored by Bruce Bernstein with assistance from the Coe Center advisory board, and Jonathan Batkin and Cheri Falkenstien-Doyle of the Wheelwright Museum.
For more about accompanying programs, walk-through videos, etc. click here.