Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Online Exhibitions

The History of Native Fashion at IAIA:
Creative Adaptations of Age-Old Practices, Rebellious Fashion Statements, and Powerful Performances of Indianness

Guest Curator: Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe (Click here to read her biography)

Patricia Michaels' sketches from 1994

The Institute of American Indian Arts is well-known for its central role in the Native American art world. It is an important institution recognized for producing some of the most influential contemporary Native artists. It was also an important center for Native fashion instruction. IAIA offered clothing and textile courses since it opened its doors in 1962. IAIA’s clothing design program, which may count among the most significant fashion curricula in the U.S., has never before been fully acknowledged for its valuable contribution to the fashion world.

This online exhibition explores the textile and fashion program that emerged at IAIA in Santa Fe in the 1960s. This story begins with IAIA co-founder Lloyd Kiva New, who rose to fame as a highly sought after fashion designer in the 1940s and 1950, and follows through with notable figures such as Josephine Wapp, Wendy Ponca, Marcus Amerman, Patricia Michaels, and Pilar Agoyo – all of whom played an important role in bridging the well-documented Native clothing design of the late 1800s with current design, and linked mainstream fashion trends with traditional Native clothing practices.

When the Institute of American Indian Arts was founded, Lloyd Kiva New developed clothing courses as part of the core curriculum. Each new student was required to explore seven major art areas, including the art of textiles. Elective courses included Fashion Techniques, Weaving, Printed Textiles, and a course called Traditional Techniques, which focused on Native clothing customs. Within a decade of the school’s opening, Traditional Techniques became one of the most popular classes on campus, and the students were being nationally recognized for their role in producing cutting-edge Native American fashion.

Later, Wendy Ponca would revolutionize the curricula and develop it into a fashion program that was comparable to other leading American fashion institutions. Her students and colleagues, who include award-winning artists Marcus Amerman, Patricia Michaels, and Pilar Agoyo, would effectively establish Santa Fe as a fashion center and the mecca for Native fashion. Santa Fe continues to inspire leading American and European fashion designers who produce collections based on ‘the Native.’ An influential institution, IAIA has produced some of the most avant-garde of contemporary Native designers.

Click on buttons below to explore Native fashion at IAIA.