2015 to 2016 Connoisseurship and Good Pie: Ted Coe and Collecting Native American Art

by | Apr 4, 2015 | Coe Collaborations, Collections Programming, Exhibitions

Ralph T. 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, Santa Fe.

The exhibition explored the study of Native art through Coe’s career and collections. Coe was a pioneer in the field of 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.

Northeastern Cree hide Coat, c. 1740. Photo by Addison Doty.The exhibitions he organized, such as the groundbreaking international Sacred Circles, Two Thousand Years of North American Indian Art and 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.

From the Coe collection, over 200 works were presented 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 continues to be available through the Coe Center or at the Case Trading Post at the Wheelwright Museum (www.wheelwright.org/shop). The catalog and exhibition are authored by Bruce Bernstein, executive director and curator of the Coe Center, with assistance from the Coe Center advisory board, and Jonathan Batkin and Cheri Falkenstien-Doyle of the Wheelwright Museum. For additional information about the Center, how to purchase a catalogue, and the exhibition contact: Coe Center president/CEO, Rachel Wixom at info@coeartscenter.org or 505-983-6372).

For more information please see the following links:
Pasatiempo’s Michael Abatemarco write Pie in the Sky.
Bruce Bernstein’s article Good Eye and PIe in Native Arts Magazine April/May 2016, pg 62.
Ted Coe and Collecting Native Art – Good Eye and Pie lecture by Bruce Bernstein at Brown University, March 18, 2016.

This exhibition was made possible in part by the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission and the 1% Lodgers Tax; New Mexico Arts, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts; and Eugene V. Thaw, and Richard and Willa Sisson.

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