Eugene and Clare Thaw
Collection of American Indian Art

In 1995, the Fenimore Art Museum embarked upon a new era with the addition of a spectacular new American Indian Wing designed to house the extraordinary gift from Eugene and Clare Thaw of their collection of American Indian art. The collection has continued to grow as new objects are added by the Thaws and other donors, and today numbers almost 850 objects. Each new object reaffirms the Thaws’ commitment to the beauty and artistry of American Indian art, and thus strengthens the philosophical foundation of the collection: that the aesthetic power of American Indian art is equivalent to that from any culture.

The collection can be seen in changing galleries and in the Study Center, an open storage space. Since acquiring the Thaw collection, the Fenimore Art Museum has reached new audiences by touring exhibitions, hosting symposiums, publishing new research, and collaborating with American Indian curators and specialists for museum programs and exhibitions.

Fenimore Art Museum Statement on New NAGPRA Regulations

The Fenimore Art Museum (Museum) is taking important steps to ensure it is fulfilling new requirements under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) that were recently issued by the Department of the Interior in January 2024.  NAGPRA is a 1990 federal law that establishes the rights of federally recognized tribes, Native Hawaiian organizations, and lineal descendants with regard to the return of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.

The Museum has been in the possession of the Thaw Collection of American Indian Art since 1995, when it was gifted to the Museum by Clare and Eugene Thaw. We are grateful to the Thaws for their generosity and for entrusting the collection to the Museum. The Museum is also in possession of its own American Indian Art collection.  Together, these collections now consist of almost 1200 objects.

Consistent with our role as stewards of these collections, we take our NAGPRA obligations seriously. To that end, we are making a renewed effort to determine the cultural affiliation of items in the collection based on the newly expanded NAGPRA standards. We are also implementing a plan to consult with tribes and lineal descendants under the new cultural affiliation standards to facilitate the repatriation of items in a timely and respectful manner. The revised NAGRPA regulations include new “duty of care” requirements that may affect the exhibition, storage, and research of items in the Thaw Collection. There are also new definitions for “sacred objects” and “objects of cultural patrimony” that may change the status of parts of the collection. As a result, visitors to the Museum may notice some changes in the exhibition of the collections.

We also acknowledge that the Museum is situated on the traditional homelands of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) People. We highly value our relationship with our indigenous neighbors and look forward to continued collaboration with them as we continue on this journey of engagement, education, and repatriation.

The Museum is fully and consistently committed to providing a beautiful and welcoming setting to gain inspiration, knowledge, and insight about American Indian Art, while creating an experience that respects the values, perspectives, and shared humanity of all. In that regard, we embrace the new NAGPRA regulations and the opportunity they provide to enhance our understanding of tribal sovereignty, self-determination, and indigenous rights.

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