Championing Diversity and Inclusivity: The Impact of Elizabeth E. Keefer’s Art

Taos - Singing in the Moonlight | Elizabeth E. Keefer | aquatint | Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Chicago Society of Etchers, 1935.13.597

Elizabeth E. Keefer Boatright, colloquially known as the “etcher of Indians,” is characterized by a deep appreciation for Native American culture and an unparalleled skill in etching, has contributed significantly to the preservation and understanding of indigenous traditions.

Early Life & Education

Born in Houston, Texas, on this day November 4, 1897, Boatright’s artistic journey began at a young age. She received her early education at the Southern Seminary in Buena Vista, Virginia (1915-17). Her passion for art led her to the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago (1920-24), where she honed her skills and developed an understanding of various art techniques. Her pursuit of knowledge didn’t stop there. Boatright proceeded to the Art Students League in New York (1924-25), where she studied under the tutelage of the master etcher, Joseph Pennell. The influence of Pennell on Boatright’s work is unmistakable. She worked as his assistant from 1925 until his untimely death a year later.

Discovery of Native American Culture

Boatright’s fascination with Native American culture began in 1921, when she traveled to the West. This journey served as a catalyst for her deep interest in indigenous traditions, which would later become a significant theme in her work. In 1927, Boatright began to use her newly acquired etching skills to document the lives of the Indians she observed in Arizona and New Mexico. This marked the advent of her reputation as the “etcher of Indians.”

Significant Contributions to Art

Boatright’s work, characterized by its accurate portrayal of Native American culture, has garnered much acclaim. Her etchings feature intricate details that reflect the unique cultural practices of different tribes. One such example is her depiction of the Zuni ceremonies, where observers described pendent fox skins fastened to the belts in the back and turtleshell rattles that held sacred significance. Her work was not limited to etchings. Boatright also spent many years creating watercolor and oil landscapes of Texas and the Southwest states of Arizona and New Mexico.

Legacy and Impact

Elizabeth E. Keefer Boatright passed away in 1989, but her legacy lives on. Her work continues to inspire artists and educate viewers about the rich tapestry of Native American culture. Her papers, meticulously maintained, are housed at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas, Austin. Boatright’s work serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of diversity and inclusivity. She used her art to celebrate a culture that was often marginalized, providing a platform for Native American traditions to be recognized and appreciated. Her contributions to the world of art and culture are a testament to the immense impact one individual can have in championing diversity and inclusivity, making Elizabeth E. Keefer Boatright a figure to remember and celebrate.

Curated by Jennifer