Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Strengthens Collection of Native American Art with Gift from Estate of David Rockefeller

52 Artworks from the Collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller Include Watercolors, Textiles, Beadwork and Pottery, Representing Artists from 13 Native American Tribes and Nations

BOSTON (October 18, 2018)—The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), has announced the gift of the Estate of David Rockefeller from the Collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller—an acquisition comprising 52 works of art by Native American artists and works representing Native American culture. The objects in this cornerstone gift were assembled primarily by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller in the 1920s and 1930s, and include Plains beadwork, Navajo (Diné) weavings and rugs, Nez Perce cornhusk bags and one Taos School painting, as well as pottery, watercolors and baskets by a variety of artists from 13 Native American tribes and nations. Later works in the collection were added by their son David Rockefeller and his wife Peggy. The MFA is one of two institutions to receive a gift of Native American art from the Estate of David Rockefeller, along with the Mesa Verde National Park Museum in Colorado, which John D. Rockefeller, Jr., helped to sponsor in the 1920s. At the MFA, these objects present an opportunity to add greater depth and breadth to the existing collection. The acquisition is part of the Museum’s renewed commitment to the collection, interpretation and display of Native American art, as reflected in the ongoing exhibition Collecting Stories: Native American Art; the Native North American Art Gallery in the Art of the Americas Wing; and recent installations of Native American works in the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art.

“This gift represents the remarkable legacy of the Rockefeller family as leading art collectors and as land preservationists, both on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, where their Native American collection was displayed, and widely across the United States. These significant examples of Native American art will allow us to broaden the stories we present in our galleries and further explore in our public programs,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “As the MFA continues to diversify the narratives we tell about the art of the Americas, we strive to be inclusive of the wide range of artists who have contributed to these histories. By strengthening the Museum’s collection in this critical area, this gift marks an important step forward.”

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller acquired the core of the gift during their travels throughout the American West in the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., became active in the growing land conservation movement in the U.S. and sponsored projects related to Native American art and anthropology in the Southwest. The Rockefellers purchased and later donated thousands of acres of land for the National Park Service at this time, including at Grand Teton National Park, while simultaneously collecting Native American art during the course of their travels. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., purchased objects directly from a number of artists, including renowned potter Maria Montoya Martinez (Poveka or Water Pond Lily) (1887–1980, San Ildefonso Pueblo) and her husband, Julian Martinez (1885–1943, San Ildefonso Pueblo)—acquiring some of the first blackware pottery they ever made. Rockefeller’s son, David, met Maria Martinez on his first visit to the Southwest as a child in 1926, part of a 10,000-mile tour of the American West with his parents and brothers.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller became particularly interested in contemporary watercolors by Velino Shije Herrera (Ma-Pe-Wi) (1902–1973, Zia Pueblo), Tonita Peña (Quah Ah) (1893–1949, San Ildefonso Pueblo) and Awa Tsireh (Alfonso Roybal) (1898–1955), among others. Smoking Pipe (about 1926), an oil painting by famed Taos School artist Eanger Irving Couse (1866–1936), was purchased by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1926.

“These gifts of Native American art add a new dimension to the MFA’s collection and allow us to envision displays in our 19th- and 20th-century galleries where Native American art will enter into compelling dialogues with our renowned collection of American painting and decorative arts,” said Dennis Carr, Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture. “The MFA’s efforts to collect Native American art began in the 1870s, shortly after the Museum opened to the public, but then diminished in the decades after the 1910s. These objects, which were made or collected during the 1920s and 1930s, are an important complement to our current collection.”

The objects being donated to the MFA and Mesa Verde National Park were part of a collection of Native American art displayed in the “Rest House,” located on the Rockefeller family’s property on Mt. Desert Island in Maine. After John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s, death in 1960, his son David inherited most of his father’s properties in Maine, as well as his parents’ collection of Native American art, which he and Peggy left on view in the Rest House until his death in 2017.

“The immersive quality of the ‘Rest House’ collection, with its mixture of textiles, pottery, basketry and paintings, exemplifies a fashionable way to display Native American art in the early 20th century. Because the Rest House was a private family retreat, the collection has remained a lesser-known aspect of the Rockefeller family’s collecting and specifically of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller’s artistic sensibility,” said Pam Parmal, Chair and David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts. “We are pleased to provide a public acknowledgement of this important contribution.”

Art of the Americas at the MFA

Since the Museum’s founding in 1870, it has been committed to collecting art of North, Central and South America from all time periods. Its diverse holdings rank among the most significant in the nation and feature masterpieces ranging from gold of the Ancient Americas, Maya ceramics, and Native American (prehistoric to contemporary) objects, to one of the finest collections of art of the United States from colonial through modern times. More than 5,000 objects from the Museum’s collection of works from the Americas are on view in the 49 galleries of the Art of the Americas Wing, as well as in the Sargent Rotunda and Colonnade. Also displayed in these galleries are works from the Americas drawn from the Museum’s Prints and Drawings; Photography; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments collections.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is recognized for the quality and scope of its collection, representing all cultures and time periods. The Museum has more than 140 galleries displaying its encyclopedic collection, which includes Art of the Americas; Art of Europe; Contemporary Art; Art of Asia; Art of Africa and Oceania; Art of Ancient Greece and Rome; Art of Ancient Egypt, Nubia and the Near East; Prints and Drawings; Photography; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments. Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Tuesday, 10 am–5 pm; and Wednesday through Friday, 10 am–10 pm. Admission (which includes one repeat visit within 10 days) is $25 for adults and $23 for seniors and students age 18 and older, and includes entry to all galleries and special exhibitions. Admission is free for University Members and youths age 17 and younger. Wednesday nights after 4 pm admission is by voluntary contribution (suggested donation $25), while five Open Houses offer the opportunity to visit the Museum for free. The Museum’s mobile MFA Guide is available at ticket desks and the Sharf Visitor Center for $5, members; $6, non-members; and $4, youths. The Museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Patriots’ Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The MFA is located on the Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115. For more information, call 617.267.9300, visit or follow the MFA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.



Karen Frascona