The Elkus Collection: Changing Traditions
In Native American Art

Exhibit Opens May 15, 1999

SAN FRANCISCO (May 10, 1999) - Assembled by San Francisco residents Ruth and Charles de Young Elkus and bequeathed to the Academy of Sciences Anthropology Department in 1972, the Elkus Collection will showcase a vast array of pottery, jewelry, carvings, paintings, textiles, and basketry created by some of the leading Native American artisans of the 20th century. Pieces date back to the late 19th century through the 1960's, and are primarily from the Navajo and Pueblo peoples of Arizona and New Mexico. Cultures from California, Alaska, and other regions will also be represented.

The diversity of the Elkus Collection reflects artistic changes in Native American art that occurred during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During that period, Native American society was changing as native people interacted increasingly with non-Indians. Tourism, access to new materials and technologies by native craftspeople, changes in education, and the development of new markets were all important factors. Some changes, such as painting ceremonial dances, conflicted with traditional native beliefs and thus were controversial. Others resulted solely from the artistry of a single individual but soon became "traditional," such as the black-on-black pottery developed by Maria and Julian Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo.

San Francisco residents Ruth and Charles de Young Elkus recognized the need to encourage and support artists from these diverse Native American cultures, and actively sought talented artisans. Because of the Elkus' early support, some of the leading names in 20th century Native American art - Maria and Julian Martinez, Lucy Lewis, and Pablita Velarde - were able to achieve international recognition and acclaim for their works.

With an emphasis on "Changing Traditions," a special area in the center of the exhibit will be dedicated to works in each media which illustrate artistic innovation. Included will be a dining table set with four place settings of dinnerware by Maria and Julian Martinez and silverware by Navajos Frank Charlie and Eckley Yazzie. Also included will be wheel thrown pottery by Charles Loloma and Otellie Pasavaya, an early "Raised Outline" Navajo rug, a Navajo sandpainting by Fred Stevens, the first Navajo to make sandpaintings on boards, as well as a selection of innovative silver jewelry items.

The entire collection of more than 1700 objects can be accessed on a database located in the exhibit gallery. Visitors can identify works by tribal group or by specific artists. Objects in the vast collection will be rotated throughout the duration of the exhibit.


Southwestern Pueblo pottery is a major component of the Elkus Collection. Works by noted potters Maria and Julian Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo, Nampeyo from the Hopi Tribe, and Lucy Lewis of Acoma Pueblo will be displayed. Historic pottery from the late 1800s and contemporary examples from other pueblos will also be shown.


Silver and turquoise jewelry by Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo craftspeople will fill several cases and include squash blossom necklaces, concho belts, bracelets, rings, and other items. Hopi artist, Charles Loloma, and Navajo artist, Kenneth Begay, who influenced generations of Indian silversmiths, are both well represented in the exhibit. Haida artist Bill Reid, who revolutionized Haida art and was best known for his monumental sculptures, is represented by three silver jewelry pieces made in 1961.


Southwestern textiles in the exhibit will trace the evolution of Navajo weaving from wearing blankets of the mid-1800s to transitional blankets woven of Germantown yarn at the turn of the century to regional style rugs woven from 1900 until the 1960s. Examples of handwoven Pueblo clothing items will also be shown.


Works by premier artists such as Narciso Abeyta, R.C. Gorman, Harrison Begay, Awa Tsireh, Fred Kabotie, Pablita Velarde, Beatien Yazz, Otis Polelonema, Allan Houser, Tonita Peña, and Joe H. Herrera are included in the nearly 200 works of art on paper in the collection. Also included are Eskimo drawings done on sealskin and etchings and stencil prints from Baffin Island in Canada's Northwest Territories.


More than 150 baskets in the Elkus Collection represent various Southwestern, California, Northwest Coast and Alaskan cultures. The Pomo of Northern California, among the finest basket weavers in the world, will be highlighted in the exhibit.