Indian Made: Museum Valuation of American Indian Identity through Aesthetics




Native American, museum, Native art, taste


Ethnographic museums create a taste for American Indian art through the acquisition of art with a narrow type, scope, and preference for particular Native artists. The taste created by museums is than communicated to their publics through the valuation of contemporary art and presenting the art through “rhetorics of value” (Kratz 22). I argue these “rhetorics of value” are creating rigid standards for what constitutes American Indian art worthy for museum display that excludes traditional art forms and contemporary motifs deemed important by tribal nations and individual American Indian artists. This article traces the process of creating contemporary American Indian art taste that valuates not only the art itself, but also the artist’s Native identity when considering good Indian art. I also track how this taste is imparted to museum publics and finally how these processes are exclusionary through a discussion of a museum passing on a truly unique piece of contemporary American Indian art in favor for a standard piece of beadwork. It concludes by exploring how tribal museums are employing tribal sovereign authority and citizenship standards to determine what art to acquire. Though reliant on citizenship standards, the art the Oneida Nation Museum (ONM) is acquiring is more inclusive than its ethnographic museum counterparts in terms of medium, motif, and message. And it is to tribal museums like the ONM, that ethnographic museums should be looking to for inspiration of what art to acquire to broaden the taste for American Indian art.

Author Biography

Courtney Cottrell, University of Illinois

Courtney Cottrell is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the American Indian Studies Department at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. She received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Michigan in 2017. She is also the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Brothertown Indian Nation.




How to Cite

Cottrell, C. (2019). Indian Made: Museum Valuation of American Indian Identity through Aesthetics. Transmotion, 5(2), 23–44.