Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Degree Name

Curriculum and Instruction

Department or School/College

School of Education

Committee Co-chair

David Erickson, Angelica Lawson

Commitee Members

Rafael Chacon, Jean Luckowski, Darrell Stolle


Angel DeCora, Art, Design study, Education, Indian Boarding School, Native American Art


University of Montana


This study looks at Angel DeCora, Winnebago artist and teacher (1871-1918) with regard to her visionary influence as an Indian school art teacher. By exploring interactions among DeCora, policy makers, and American Indians, this chronological study addresses: how DeCora's Indian arts curriculum and aesthetics influenced her American Indian students at Carlisle; how DeCora used elements of her Winnebago culture, the Pan-Indian culture, and the Euro-American viewpoints to serve her purposes as an arts educator and activist; and what her aesthetic motivations were as embodied by her art, curriculum design, and students' work. Educated on the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska until age12, she was taken to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, Virginia's Freedman Bureau School also serving American Indians. She attended Smith College, studied at Drexel Institute becoming a professional artist before accepting her position as Director of Native Industries at Carlisle Indian Industrial School. The military barracks at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 1879 -1918, housed the first federally funded, off-reservation, secular, Indian Boarding School. Carlisle's military structure and vocational curriculum influenced non-reservation boarding schools during the Assimilation era. Assimilationist Indian boarding schools coerced students in strict regimented methods to learn the English language, writing, culture, and vocations. Investigating this history is vital to understanding the two-way influence of Native American and Euro-American worldviews represented in art.

The sample student studies represent visual expressions of values and culture specific to the era. Images created under DeCora's tutelage show cultural resilience and relationships between Indian teacher and student. Topics specific to her curriculum are revealed for the first time through student work. By validating female leadership as Director, she mirrored the shared gender roles in many Native cultures. DeCora affirmed the depth of student potential and cultural heritage while refuting the racial deficit model. She promoted expression of Native worldviews by emphasizing the unique contributions of Native arts. She foreshadowed postmodern, pluralistic rhetoric by elevating decorative design over the tenets of Western illusion asserting the holistic framework of Native aesthetics. DeCora used the cultural empowerment potential of art education within her pedagogy to strengthen cultural ties and create a small space for students to thrive.



© Copyright 2009 Suzanne Alene Shope