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The Norma K. and Edwin J. Seiferle Collection of Native American Art


An exhibit that is said to have transformed the South Dakota Art Museum's Native American collection and exhibition programs is again on display.

The Norma K. and Edwin J. Seiferle Collection of Native American Art exhibition opened January 7 and will run through July 11, 2004 at the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings.

According to exhibit information written by Elizabeth Evenson Williams, the Seiferles' niece, the collection includes 192 works of art and more than 100 books about Indian art. Included are rugs, pottery, baskets, paintings, jewelry, bronzes, dolls, beadwork and stone carvings. The collection, which reflects the couple's interest in American Indian art from the Southwest United States, showcases art from numerous tribes, including, among others, the Hopi, the Navajo and the basket weaving tribes.

A 1933 South Dakota State University graduate, Norma Kelton Seiferle attended graduate school at Iowa State University in Ames, where she studied botany. While there, she met her future husband Edwin J. Seiferle, who was then a doctorate of philosophy candidate in chemistry. The Seiferles married in 1936 and, after receiving their degrees, lived throughout the eastern United States. They finally settled in Atlanta, Georgia.

"In their collection, the Seiferles, both trained in the sciences, brought together their sense of order and detail with their love of beautiful art," Williams wrote. Norma Seiferle both painted and made jewelry. Edwin Seiferle was "an accomplished photographer" whose subjects ranged from the plants and flowers the Seiferles witnessed on botanical expeditions to the couple's trips to Europe, Asia and Australia.

"As the Seiferles had no children, this collection became their link to posterity," wrote Williams, adding that the "nucleus" of the collection lies in American Indian arrowheads and similar objects obtained by J.H. and Minnie Bushnell, Norma's grandparents. The Bushnells obtained these objects as pioneers before and during the early years of South Dakota statehood.

According to Williams, J.R. Kelton, Norma's father, traveled to Arizona and New Mexico in the early 1900s and obtained rugs and other American Indian pieces. Although these objects as well as those from her grandparents served as a basis for future collecting, Norma Seiferle probably did not begin systematically collecting items until the 1960's.

The Seiferles traveled to the Black Hills and the Badlands of South Dakota in 1950 and obtained a few American Indian pieces. Beginning in the 1960s, the couple "planned vacation trips to the Southwest, to visit Native American museums, shops, and pueblos, and acquire more pieces." While collecting, the Sieferles "kept detailed notes, including the place of purchase, the price that was paid and any additional information available about the artist." The couple "augmented their notes with material from their ever-growing library of books on Native American art. Each item was also photographed, with either a slide or color print."

During a visit to the South Dakota Art Museum, the Seiferles visited with former director Joseph Stuart. Williams wrote, "It was on this visit that Norma commented, 'This would be a nice place for our collection to come.'" After the Seiferles left their home for a convalescent center in 1992, the collection came to Brookings in 1993.

South Dakota Arts Council support is provided with funds from the State of South Dakota, through the Department of Education and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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