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Yeffe Kimball Collection

Identifier: IAIA-MS009

Scope and Content

The Yeffe Kimball Collection consists of film strips, 35 mm slides, color transparencies, and stereoscopic 3-D images related to a ten year project Kimball in which she traveled North and Central America to direct a photographic documentation project of the Native peoples of the continent. The collection contains over 7,000 images, some of them posed, but some of routine daily life, ceremonies, and culture.

The collection was donated by Kimball in November of 1974 to “assist the Indian student in learning about his heritage, the customs and rituals of other tribes; where it will serve the needs of the scholar and student when this culture has been assimilated.” The collection remained unused until a group of students from Smith College worked on the collection in 2002. Despite the tremendous amount of work done on the collection by this group, the collection remains virtually unprocessed.

There are challenges in respect to determining the authenticity of this collection. According to Nancy Mithlo, former IAIA faculty currently teaching at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, Kimball purposely staged ‘what was then believed to be authentic tribal dress and activities in the Northeast, Southwest, Northwest, and Plains areas of Native North America”. While these ‘staged’ images are tightly composed and brightly colored, Mithlo observed that other images within the collection were not staged, and were possibly taken on different film and by a different photographer, probably Royal Lowy.

The probable commissioning of the images for commercial publication sheds light on this problem; if the images were indeed commissioned, Kimball was not composing the images according to her artistic tastes or styles, she was being directed by her employers.


  • c. 1950-c.1966
  • Majority of material found in c. 1955-c. 1960

Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

Access is by appointment only. There may be restrictions to this collection; please contact the archivist for more information. IAIA reserves the right to restrict any or all materials as necessary to protect IAIA, American Indian religious and cultural practices, and individual and financial privacy.

Parts of this collection are restricted due to possible cultural sensitivity. Roughly 130 of the 7,000 images have been identified as 'possible sensitive viewing material' that include sacred objects, ceremonies, prayers, and burials. IAIA is currently evaluating the actual sensitivity of the materials in concurrence with the Native American Protocols.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of print materials is allowed for research purposes. It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission to publish from the owner of the copyright (the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates, or literary executors). The user agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Institute of American Indian Arts, its board, faculty, employees, and agents from and against all claims made by any person asserting that he or she is an owner of copyright.

Biography / History

Yeffe Kimball was born sometime around 1905 in Ray County, Missouri. Although she claimed Osage Indian ancestry until her death, she was Anglo. She was an accomplished artist and author who trained at the Art Students League in New York and studied in Europe in the summer months. Kimball was also an outspoken activist and defender of Indian arts and culture, but distanced herself from Indian art during the 1950s and 1960s. She explored and experimented with outer space and atomic age themes in her art during this period, but works later in her life began to once again reflect Native American Indian culture and themes. Kimball died at her vacation home in Santa Fe in 1978.

The collection at IAIA is a bit of a mystery. Kimball did not take the photographs but rather directed the production of the project. The photographs were the outcome of collaboration between Kimball and Edna Massy, a fine arts specialist in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and an assistant to Lee Udall, the wife of then Senator and future Secretary of the Interior Steward Udall. It is assumed that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had a stake in the project, and that they at least partially subsidized it; however the extent of that involvement is unknown. Kimball and Massey traveled the country for roughly a decade; Massey purchased art for the government while Kimball directed the documentation of the Native peoples of North America, their cultures, traditions, and ceremonies. Kimball was accompanied by photographer Royal Lowy and her husband Harvey Slatin, who were the photographers and Technical Advisor Walter Lewisohn on her travels. Lowy and Lewisohn were the directors of filmstrips produced by Young America Films, Inc.

The primary photographer, Royal Lowy, was a noted New York based photographer and landscape artist. Born in 1891, Lowy summered in Santa Fe, New Mexico to further his art at the pueblos and other southwestern locations. Lowy had done professional photography projects for various museums and colleges as well filming and producing colored movies of Southwestern tribes. Lowy served in World War II and upon his return, began this photography project around 1951 and continued the project during the summer months until his death in June of 1958.

Secondarily, Harvey Slatin, Kimball’s third husband, was also a photographer in the project. Slatin was an atomic scientist who had worked on the Manhattan Project. He was married to Kimball for over thirty years prior to her death in 1978.

It is the belief of this archivist the vast majority of this collection were commercially commissioned and used by various organizations and corporations like the State Department, the Grollier Society, Young America Films, Inc., Artists and Writers Press Inc., American Indian Committee on Education, McGraw Hill Publishing company, Sawyer Company, in the late 1950s. However, there is eveidence that commercial production was not the primary objective but that Kimball intended on the images to document the plight of American Indians during that time and to create a time capsule of the 1950s on the reservations. The images were widely used in books, magazines, film strips, text books, and other commercial publications.


9 cu. ft (Approx 7,000 images) The collection is located on the campus of IAIA, Santa Fe, New Mexico. The archives are located in the Library & Technology Center.


The Yeffe Kimball Collection is a unique, one-of-a-kind cultural treasure consisting of roughly 7,000 color transparencies, 35mm slides, film strips, and mounted 3-D stereographic images of Native American and Meso-American themes and tribes.

Processing Information

Arrangement: Original by creator Description: Ryan S. Flahive

Kimball originally arranged the collection by region: Eastern Woodlands, Plains, Southwest, Northwest, and Mexico and Guatemala. Native tribes represented by region (as described by Kimball in her inventory) are: Eastern--Seneca, Mohawk, St. Regin, Onondagas, Oneidas; Plains—Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet, Pawnee, Chippewa, and others; Southwest—Pueblos, Navajo, Apache, Hopi, Pima, ect; Northwest—Plateau, Warm Springs, Northwest, Yakama, Klamath, Canada, ect. There is a very ‘unique’ color code to each set of images, with colored ‘dots’ coded by region.

The arrangement of the collection by region, although quite unorthodox, might reflect the original use of the images in commercial publications. Her images seem to have been commissioned by region; a film strip on Eastern Woodlands, or a text book chapter on Southwestern Native life, for example.

The original order and arrangement of the collection pose serious description and cataloging issues as very little documentation exists describing the subjects, dates, or details of the images, and as of March 2009, the collection is in desperate need of rearrangement and description.
Guide to the Yeffe Kimball Collection, c. 1950-c.1966
Edited Full Draft
Ryan S. Flahive
© 2009
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the Institute of American Indian Arts Repository