The Natural History Museum of Utah has always had strong ties to the Native American community. Its Indian Advisory Committee helps guide the accurate creation of exhibits and interpretations in the museum’s Native American collection and aid in implementing NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
NHMU’s annual Indian Art Market has become one of its most popular events, bringing visitors face-to-face with Indian artists and their work. The show is held in the huge Canyon area of the museum, a space that echoes Utah’s natural slot canyons and rock formations, serving as a natural backdrop for the sounds of Indian flutes and drums and the display of jewelry, pottery, basketry, painting and carving.
Suzanne Ruhlman, who organizes the market every year, explains it’s a juried show. “Artists send us photographs of their work and a committee selects the artists to be included each year,” she says. “Everything is judged purely on the quality of the work—we have no quotas or categories.”
Each exhibiting artist also chooses one work to be judged by another committee for Best of Show, second- and third-place. This year, a special award has been added: The Purchase Award will go to the artist whose work the Museum would like to add to its Native collections.
“The show is open to members of any tribe—we check tribal enrollment cards,”says Ruhlman. “We start within Utah, but we have exhibitors from Kickapoo, Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Odowa and Potawatomi tribes,”
For Ruhlman, who has extensive experience at the Smithsonian and the Native American Museum of New York, the annual art show is a labor of love—for her, the visitors and the artists. “This is a small show, but we have lots of return visitors, some who have started collecting. But the biggest compliment is that many artists return,” she says. “They say the audience here is educated and respectful.”