The Native American Initiative at Shelburne Museum is a major undertaking that includes stewardship of an important collection of Native American art and construction of a building and integrated landscape collaboratively designed to create a national resource for the study and care of Indigenous art.
Shelburne Museum has approached this project with an abiding awareness of the responsibility inherent in caring for a collection that represents living cultures. Partnerships with source communities have been a priority and focus—the Museum has worked to build relationships that will make the Perry Center for Native American Art a resource that reimagines the Museum and its role in presenting American art and material culture.
The Native American Initiative is rooted in Shelburne Museum founder Electra Havemeyer Webb’s (1888–1960) deep interest in, and engagement with, Indigenous art and culture, an aspect of Shelburne Museum’s program incompletely realized in her lifetime and of singular importance to the institution today.
Artist formerly known (Iowa), Moccasins, ca. 1860–70. Perry Collection of Native American Arts. M23. Photography by Jennifer Hardman, © 2010.
The Perry Center for Native American Art is planned to be a highly sustainable pavilion designed to support the culturally appropriate interpretation and care of Indigenous material culture. Designed and realized through a rigorous process in partnership with Indigenous voices, the Perry Center will serve as a welcoming space for Tribal members and scholars to study and engage with the collection and will reimagine the Museum experience for all visitors including the local community, schoolchildren, and tourists.
Maker formerly known [Haak’u (Acoma Pueblo)], Polychrome Water Jar, ca.1890. Perry Collection of Native American Arts. PT47. Photography by Andy Duback.
The Perry Collection forms the core of the Museum’s Initiative to collaborate with Indigenous nations, scholars, and culture bearers to present a model of stewardship for Indigenous creative culture and presentation to a broad audience. The more than 200-item Perry Collection of Native American masterworks is comprised of items predominantly from Plains, Prairie, and Southwest peoples. The collection amplifies and diversifies the Native American materials already stewarded by Shelburne Museum, which is comprised of more than 300 items including baskets, clothing, textiles, utilitarian tools, and art produced by Plains, Southwest, Pueblo, and Northwest Coast Tribes during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Together, the Perry Collection and the Museum’s Indigenous collection represent nearly 80 Tribes.
Artist formerly known [Diné (Navajo)], Second Phase Child’s Blanket, ca. 1870. Perry Collection of Native American Arts. T1. Photography by Jennifer Hardman, © 2010.
Shelburne Museum has selected Adjaye Associates, an internationally acclaimed architecture studio to design the Perry Center for Native American Art, a sustainable building with integrated landscape, created in collaboration with Indigenous voices whose cultures and people are represented in the works to be stewarded in the space. Adjaye Associates has studios in Accra, London, and New York, with work spanning the globe. The studio’s most well-known commission to date, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, opened in 2016 on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
“Our team is inspired by the potential of the Perry Center to not only enhance Shelburne Museum as a destination for education, but also to amplify and empower the Indigenous communities represented by the collection and to reconceptualize the role of a 21st century museum facility,” said Adjaye Associates Founder and Principal David Adjaye. “As the design architect for the new Perry Center, Adjaye Associates intends to cultivate opportunities for transformation, storytelling, and cross-cultural dialogue, ensuring the Perry Center contributes to the unique eclecticism and mission of Shelburne Museum.”