One of my favorite subjects is the evolution of the Santa Fe Indian School and the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe. It is always interesting to see how different Native artists were associated with the school.

The Santa Fe Indian School was started in 1890 by the Federal Government to assimilate Native Students from the Southwestern tribes into American life. Little did Uncle Sam know that the school would create a pathway for many of these students to share their traditional cultures.


Dorothy Dunn

Back in Pottawatomie County, Kansas, a woman named Dorothy Dunn was born in 1903. She was to have a profound effect on the school. Dunn was educated in Chicago and had her first exposure to Native Art at the Field Museum in 1925. She was captivated by New Mexico and moved there in 1928, where she was a grade school teacher at Santo Domingo and later moved to Shiprock to teach at a boarding school.

Dunn returned to Chicago, finished her education at the Art Institute, and then returned to New Mexico. She taught fifth grade at the Santa Fe Indian School and was given the opportunity (I think she was an arm twister) to teach art to older students for a half day.

This class, first held in 1932,  was the start of the Studio School, which later evolved into the Institute of American Indian Art. The list of her students reads like a "Who's Who of Southwest Indian Artists." Her style influenced Pablita Velarde, Andrew Tsinajinnie, Allan Houser, Harrison Begay, and many others.

She believed that the flat, two-dimensional style that had been popular at San Ildefonso Pueblo during the first two decades of the century was the style to which Native artists should adhere. It was the style of ledger drawings, rock art, and hide paintings.

Some critics think she was too narrow in her teaching. Still, most of her students felt her encouragement to paint their traditional culture and tribal stories was her most important contribution, regardless of the technique. Until then, many students were ashamed to share their Indian background.

In 1937, her last year teaching at the school, there were 170 students in the Studio School.

One of her students, Gerónima Cruz Montoya from San Juan Pueblo, now known as Ohkay Owingeh, took Dunn's place as director of the Studio School until 1962 when the Institute of American Indian Art was established.


Robert Montoya

Montoya's son, Robert Montoya, born in 1947, spent his first 13 years living at the school. He then attended high school at St. Michael's in Santa Fe before moving on to the University of New Mexico, where he got a degree in architecture. Montoya then attended the University of Oklahoma, earning his master's degree.

But the fine art side of life stayed with him, and Montoya had a successful second career as an artist.

In the 1980s, many Native artists began working with lithography. The artwork we are sharing today is an example of stone lithography by Montoya. It is an artist's proof signed with his Tewa name, Soe Khuwa Pin or "Fog Mountain."


The print is of a herd of deer walking above the images of Pueblo pottery and prayer feathers.

Even though Dunn was long gone when he was growing up, Montoya would never have been a successful artist had it not been for her and the Studio School.

A single person can have a long-reaching influence on people they will never know. This was one of those times.

See all Lithographs in the Gallery