Fred Harvey and American Indian Art Part II

Post by VMB

Recently, I talked about how important railroads were to Tahoma’s life. They were important to his art, as well, but more indirectly.  In Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist, we explore how the renaissance of American Indian art came about in the early to mid part of the twentieth century.

This continues the interview with Stephen Fried, author of Appetite for America, about the influence of Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe Railroad on the growing interest in American Indian Art in the early to mid-twentieth century.

VMB: In your research did you find any evidence that the Harvey company and the Santa Fe did anything for the Indian people in the southwest that they were capitalizing on? i.e. hiring them, providing scholarships or business training to artists, etc.

Hopi House Indian employees
Hopi House Indian employees with secretary to Pres. Hoover, 1932 picture from NPS.


Hopi House, NPS Photo by Michael Quinn
Hopi House, NPS Photo

SF: Fred Harvey employed many native artists who lived and worked in the Indian Building complex at Albuequerque and at Hopi House at the Grand Canyon. They [Fred Harvey company] were in business with the native artists all over the Southwest, and I think they believed both their business dealings and personal collecting (which was pretty intense–Fred’s granddaughter Kitty, for example, was buying drawings from young Fred Kabotie when she was a teen and he was under 10) to be patronage of the arts and not charity.

… There are some who criticize the Harvey company for commercializing Indian art, even as it rescued and allowed to thrive many styles that otherwise might have been lost. … I think they were trying to help the Indians build a market that could sustain them.

VMB:You list in your book the various places around the country that have Fred Harvey collections of one sort or another. Can you pick three must-sees? 

SF: The company collection was donated by the family to the[ Heard Museum, Phoenix], which stores it well but shows it only as part of their other themed shows–there is no large permanent display of Harvey-owned art. (See the Heard catalog of a 1976 showing of Fred Harvey) The company did sell art to what became the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City (I believe in the 1930s) and the family’s pieces went to some other museums (Museum of Northern Arizona, etc) but many things are still in private family collections. The collections were mostly kachinas, baskets, silver, pottery, rugs.

Desert Watchtower, Kabotie Mural
Desert Watchtower, Kabotie Mural

There are murals that still exist on the walls at the Desert Watchtower at Grand Canyon–Fred Kabotie and others did those–and the other well-known murals, on the walls at the El Navajo hotel in Gallup (which were controversial because they were done based on watercolors of sand paintings and had to be approved by Navajo elders before the hotel could open) were destroyed when the hotel was. There are some murals in La Fonda in Santa Fe, which would have been done starting in the 1920s.
The must-sees in terms of Indian art are probably the Heard Museum and the Desert Watchtower at Grand Canyon.

VMB: We really appreciate Stephen Fried taking the time to give us these detailed replies about the effect of the Santa Fe Railroad and the Fred Harvey enterprises on the American Indian art market. You can read more about all of Fred Harvey’s business in Stephen’s page-turner of a book, Appetite for America, now out in paperback. See more on Facebook about Fred Harvey and architect Mary Jane Colter who created Hopi House and the Desert Watchtower as well as Harvey hotels. 

Photos are from various sources, please click on each photo to see the source.

This entry was posted in American Indian Art, American Indians, Navajo and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Fred Harvey and American Indian Art Part II

  1. Kristen says:

    Interesting discussion here. Lately I’ve been wanting to take a train on a long distance trip–just to see the country. It seems like going on a train gives you time to relax and take in your surroundings in ways other kinds of travel just doesn’t.

  2. This is a subject I know so little about. Thanks for educating me on Fred Harvey and Native American art. I love the photos, especially, and hope you will post more!

  3. Living Large says:

    This is all so interesting. I’m part Cherokee and always enjoy learning more about Native American history.

  4. NoPotCoooking says:

    Interesting, I never thought about the impact of RRs on Native Americans.

  5. Casey says:

    Sadly, we didn’t go inside the Watchtower on our trip to the Grand Canyon. I’m sorry we missed the murals!

  6. pen4hire says:

    Vera here. Casey, I have to admit that I don’t even remember whether I was ever inside the Watchtower, but I surely will go there next time. I do remember Hopi House vividly, which was another Mary Jane Colter creation, and where Indian art was and is sold. And we were fortunate to get a room in El Tovar one snowy winter day.

  7. pen4hire says:

    If you look at old Santa Fe posters, you’ll see a lot of them featuring Indians as well as the Southwestern landscape. The Harvey company dining cars had china designed by Mary Jane Colter with quasi-Pueblo designs on them, too.

  8. Jane Boursaw says:

    Love this discussion, Vera. And I’m still standing by my love for ‘The Harvey Girls’ movie. 🙂

  9. I’ve visited the Grand Canyon many times but I’ve somehow never been inside the Watchtower. Now I’ll definitely have to visit next time. The same goes for the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

  10. Melanie says:

    Interesting slant! I’ve been to the Heard and enjoyed the collections there, but it was long before I’d heard of Quincy Tahoma or Fred Harvey. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to go back and look with a more discerning eye.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *