Smithsonian Voices

From the Smithsonian Museums

Davida Fernandez-Barkan

Davida Fernandez-Barkan is a Ph.D. candidate in History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University and was a Smithsonian Institution Predoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum during the 2019–20 academic year. She holds an A.B. and M.A. in History of Art and Architecture from Harvard and an M.A. in Curating the Art Museum from The Courtauld Institute of Art. She has worked or interned in curatorial departments at the Harvard Art Museums, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, the National Gallery of Art, Tate Britain, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Her work appeared in the most recent issue of the journal Public Art Dialogue. Her dissertation is titled, “Mural Diplomacy: Mexico, the United States, and France at the 1937 International Exposition in Paris.” She is currently a Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) David E. Finley Fellow (2020–23).

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.