she is in a black-and-white photo on page 127, a woman with a soft
smile looking up at the camera, taking a break from painting.
is not just any artist. This is the famous Pueblo artist Pablita
author Rebecca Benes said in her new book "Native American
Picture Books of Change," that Velarde was also a literary
the publication of Velarde's book "Old Father, the Story teller"
in 1960, Benes said, she "was one of the first Native Americans
to attempt to write and paint her own culture, bringing the stories
and art of Santa Clara Pueblo to a wider American culture."
quotes Velarde as saying that she did the writing because "I
thought it would be a good thing if an Indian wrote an Indian book."
is one of many Native American artists and a handful of writers
whom Benes spotlights in her revealing, comprehensive overview of
a previously undiscovered period in American literature.
literature encompasses books for children illustrated by Native
Americans and largely penned by Anglo writers. The period is the
1920s to the late 1950s.
in the 1930s, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs began publishing
many of these collaborations as bilingual textbooks, "and they
were the first bilingual materials published on any large scale
in this country," Benes said in a phone interview.
was a time of change. The BIA was just beginning to allow Indians
to speak their own languages, Benes said, because until then Congress
had mandated total assimilation.
the BIA's bilingual textbooks, published in four series under the
rubric of Indian Life Readers, was considered revolutionary, she
series was in English and Sioux.
was in English and Navajo. Benes said it wasn't until the 1930s
that the BIA had created the orthography for what had been only
an oral language.
third series, in English and Spanish, was for the Pueblo Indians.
Benes explained why Spanish was used.
were so many languages that I think they came to the conclusion
it was easier to do the books in Spanish," she said. "Many
Pueblo Indians spoke Spanish as a second language and there were
some Pueblo languages the Indians did not wish to have written."
fourth set was in English and Hopi. This series, however, had Hopis
writing the text in Hopi as well as doing the illustrations.
first in this series was the 1944 "Field Mouse Goes to War."
Hopi Fred Kabotie did the illustrations. Albert Yava wrote the Hopi
text and Edward Kennard, who had developed a phonetic alphabet for
the Hopi, did the English, Benes said.
one of the first children's books with illustrations by Native American
artists pre-Indian Life Readers was published commercially.
In 1922, Harcourt Brace & Co. released "Taytay's Tales,
Folk-Lore of the Pueblo Indians."
then a student at Santa Fe Indian School, did most of the illustrations,
and Otis Polelonema, a classmate of Kabotie's from Second Mesa,
did some drawings in the book, according to Benes.
W. DeHuff, wife of the school's new superintendent, collected and
retold these animal stories in the anthology.
Benes isn't new to the subject. She had owned a Denver art gallery
that specialized in original art from children's books.
didn't do especially well. We opened in the late '80s when oil prices
had fallen and Denver was in a real recession. We stayed open just
for a few years," she said.
also taught English and children's lit at Arapahoe Community College
and was a librarian at a private school.
research on "Native American Picture Books of Change"
began about 15 years ago and has involved visits to several national
archives, to libraries and museums.
archivists and curators have given me a lot of help. Sally Hyer,
the manuscript editor, was a mentor to me. She died last year,"
person who aided her was Albuquerque resident Robert W. Young. He
and William Morgan created the Navajo alphabet, she said.
helped the Navajo immeasurably and helped me greatly," Benes
"Native American Picture Books of Change The Art of Historic
By Rebecca C. Benes - Museum of New Mexico Press, $45, 168 pp.