Yeffe Kimball Collection
Scope and Content
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
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.
Biography / History
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.
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
- Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.
Part of the Institute of American Indian Arts Repository