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Selections from The Richard E.

and Dorothy Rawlings Nelson

Collection of American Indian Art

 

The late Richard E. Nelson and Dorothy Rawlings Nelson shared a life together that included their passion for discovering, researching and living with art. The material culture and stories

ofAmerican Indian people fascinated them. As collectors, their interest was focused on the culture of the upper-Midwest and eastern-woodland Anishinabe people.

 

The Nelsons began collecting in the 1950s, on becoming interested in spiritually thematic art. As Richard Nelson

recalled their first acquisition:

 

“We purchased our first Native American art in the early 1950s — a small porcupine quilled container made of birchbark. Little did we realize that as the decades passed it would be joined by dozens of additional pieces, or that our interests would expand... From containers and basketry, the collection grew to include the distinctive floral beadwork seen on bandolier bags, moccasins and other beadwork of the region.”

 

- Richard Nelson, interview for Shared Passion, 2001

 

A distinctive feature of the Nelson Collection is its inclusion of Native-made objects created specifically for sale. Many collectors avoid such “tourist” material, relying on an ethnographic historicism to validate their choices. The Nelsons, however, selected objects on the basis of the intrinsic and visual qualities of discovered objects, as well as for the stories the objects represented. Their faith lay in recognition of the
contemporary and evolving reality of live Native-American material culture. Spanning from the most traditional of Woodland Native artifacts to commercial trade items, including contemporary art, the Nelson’s collection demonstrates a continuum of Ojibwe material culture in the Great Lakes region from 1800 to the present day.

 

Having established and maintained close connections with scholars in the field, fellow collectors, and Native elders and artists, the Nelsons acquired valuable archival documents, historic maps and books that supplemented their research. These resources are now housed in the Tweed’s Olive Anna
Tezla Memorial Library.

 

In the 1980s the Nelsons met contemporary Native artists and began collecting their work. Notable among them are George Morrison, Patrick DesJarlait, Carl Gawboy, Frank Big Bear, and David Bradley. The Tweed Museum of Art is proud to continue in the path followed by the Nelsons in acquiring and presenting works by contemporary Native artists; some who work with traditional forms and materials, others in mainstream contemporary-art forms.

David Bradley
(American, Ojibwe, White Earth, Minnesota, born 1954.
Lives and works in New Mexico)
American Gothic: Dorothy and Richard Nelson
on the Shores of Gitchi Gami
, 2000

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