The Saint Louis Art Museum has collected Native North American art since the first decades of the 20th century. Among the Museum's earliest acquisitions of Native American art were gifts received during the 1920s, which included several California baskets and a Chilkat dance apron. Over the next several decades, the collection built strengths in Native arts from the Northwest Coast, Arctic, Plains, and Southwest through Museum purchases and the generosity of many individual donors. The Museum's new strength in Plains art results from the important gift of the Donald Danforth Jr. Collection.
The Native American art collection now encompasses almost 700 objects that span prehistoric, historic, and contemporary periods. Click here to explore ancient art from North America at the Museum. Long celebrated as hallmarks of the collection, singular works from the Northwest Coast and Arctic include a Haida shaman figure by the artist Simeon Stilthda, a Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwakiutl) potlatch copper, Dzunukwa mask, and a Yup'ik mask. The Museum has collected works by contemporary Native artists since the 1970s, including prints and photographs by Fritz Scholder, Mark Henderson, and Wendy Red Star.
Since 2010, the Donald Danforth Jr. Collection has transformed the Museum's holdings of Native North American art by expanding the depth and presence of late 19th-century art from the Plains. Personal arts greatly characterize the Danforth Collection. These include an array of moccasins, pipe bags, assorted bags, pouches and cases, jewelry, children's items, and horse regalia, most composed of hide adorned with beadwork and quillwork in many patterns and colors. Some highlights include: Lakota/Dakota (Sioux) moccasins and pipe bags, a Transmontane parfleche, and an Apsáalooke (Crow) model cradle and martingale. Selections from the Danforth Collection can be seen in the dedicated Donald Danforth Jr. Gallery, which opened in summer 2012 as part of the Museum's expansion.
The Museum collaborates with contemporary Native artists to present the collection in relation to indigenous ways of seeing. Painter Dyani White Hawk visited the Museum and then traveled to the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations in South Dakota to interview cultural specialists and tribal elders. Dyani White Hawk has curated an installation of Lakota art in Gallery 322 inspired by these experiences. These works were installed in July 2017 and will be on view for two years.