I have spent a lot of time digging a little deeper into our Native American Literature Collections in preparation for the Rare Book School course I will be co-teaching this summer: A History of Native American Books & Indigenous Sovereignty. I was already aware of Angel de Cora(Winnebago) and her work as a book designer and illustrator, and I knew she went to school at Smith, but not much more than that.
My Rare Book School co-conspirator, Amherst Professor Kiara Vigil, told me to read this book, which includes a whole chapter on de Cora:
Hutchinson’s book fleshes out the broader context in which de Cora was working, and she identifies other examples of de Cora’s commercial illustration work. Learning that de Cora attended The Drexel Institute of Art in Philadelphia where she studied under famed American illustrator Howard Pyle helped to place de Cora within the mainstream of commercial illustration work in the 1890s. Two of her earliest known published works fit neatly within the pages of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, which was aimed at the rising American middle class consumer. Her first story, “The Sick Child,” appeared in the February 1899 issue:
A second illustrated story appeared in the November 1899 issue of the same title: “Gray Wolf’s Daughter”:
Chronologically, de Cora’s illustrations and designs for The Middle Five followed in 1900. In addition to the cover shown above, de Cora produced a color image for the frontispiece, with her signature clearly visible at the bottom:
Before reading Hutchinson’s book, I was not aware that de Cora took a job at the Carlisle Indian School — a boarding school for Native American students in Pennsylvania — where she taught art for several years. While at Carlisle, she also helped launch a new magazine called The Indian Craftsman, a reference to Gustav Stickley’s arts and crafts movement magazine, The Craftsman. Although Amherst College does not hold any original issues of The Indian Craftsman, there are several available through the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center:
As soon as I learned of this magazine, and others produced at Carlisle, I began searching for more information about printing projects at Carlisle and other Native boarding schools. As luck would have it, a book appeared last year on that very subject: Recovering Native American Writings in the Boarding School Press (Edited by Jacqueline Emery).
More than simply a working artist who incorporated her Native heritage into her work, de Cora was attempting to develop a pan-Indian aesthetic that blended her formal training and Native traditions.