Smithsonian Voices

From the Smithsonian Museums

Reversing the Erasure of Native Contributions to Muralism

One document in particular has occupied my thoughts in the months since my visit: a newspaper clipping showing two men shaking hands. The men stand in front of Ulreich’s mural Indians Watching Stagecoach in the Distance (1940), which he painted for the post office in Columbia, MO. The man on the left is named in the caption as the 1937 U.S. pavilion’s architect, Paul Lester Wiener, while the one on the right, appearing in a feathered headdress, is identified simply as, “a Navajo Indian who gave his advice on the vast murals depicting Indian life and thought which are being painted by Buck [sic.] Ulreich for the outside of the skyscraper tower.” My goal, ultimately, is to identify this man. Yet even without this man’s identity, the photograph highlights an oft-overlooked aspect of twentieth-century American art: the essential contributions of Native Americans to the mural movement that overtook the United States in the years between World War I and World War II.