DeHuff, Elizabeth Willis, 1892-

Dates:
Birth 1892

Biographical notes:

Portrait of Elizabeth Willis DeHuff with kachina dolls. Part of Elizabeth Willis DeHuff Pictorial Collection, PICT 000-099-0220 (Box 1, Folder 1).

Elizabeth Willis DeHuff, the central figure in this collection, had a long and multi-faceted career as an author, lecturer, patron of Indian arts, and publicist of the diverse history and culture of the Southwest. Although her birth date is sometimes given as 1892, the best evidence suggests that she was born in 1886 to John Turner and Ann Boyd Wilson Willis of Augusta, Georgia. The five Willis children--Ralph, Elizabeth, John, Nanette, and Francis--grew up in Augusta and also spent time at the family property on Beech Island, South Carolina.

After her schooling at the Lucy Cobb Institute in Athens, Ga., and at Barnard College in New York City, Elizabeth departed from convention and took a teaching job in the Philippine Islands in 1910. During her time there, she met John David DeHuff (1872-1945), who had also gone to the Philippines to teach. Elizabeth returned to the United States, married John David, and accompanied him to his new post at the Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1913. In 1916, he became superintendent of the Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, an appointment which proved to be a turning point in his life, and in his wife's as well.

Elizabeth was fascinated with the art and culture of the Southwest, and got John David's permission to "borrow"; several boys from their classes at the Indian School. Fred Kabotie, Otis Polelonema, Velino Herrera (also Velino Shije and Ma-Pe-Wi) were some of the boys who, as a result, started to paint dances and other Indian scenes in the DeHuff living room. The tradition of Indian painting thus begun remains popular and significant to this day.

As a consequence of allegations that the painting was tantamount to encouraging the boys to "revert to paganism,"; John David eventually left the Indian School Service; he became secretary of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce in 1927, and remained so until his death. Elizabeth continued her friendship and encouragement of Indian artists throughout her life, and stayed especially close to Fred Kabotie. She also became a prolific writer, and is especially noted for her children"s books with Indian themes. Taytay"s Tales, published in 1922, is a collection of Indian folktales; with the drawings by Kabotie and Polelonema, it is the first book illustrated by Indians. This was followed by Taytay"s Memories in 1924, Swift Eagle of the Rio Grande in 1928, plus other books and a wealth of periodical articles on Indian, Hispanic, and New Mexico subjects. In addition to all this, Elizabeth was involved in many civic and artistic events in Santa Fe; for Indian Detours, she lectured several nights a week at La Fonda Hotel from 1927 to about 1945; she carried on a voluminous correspondence; and she raised the three DeHuff children, David, Ann, and Frances. After John David"s death in 1945, Elizabeth eventually returned to Georgia, where she actively pursued her writing and genealogical research until her death in 1983.

Sources: Campbell, Walter S. The Book Lover's Southwest; A Guide to Good Reading. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955; Chauvenet, Beatrice. Hewett and Friends; A Biography of Santa Fe's Vibrant Era. Santa Fe; Museum of New Mexico Press, 1983; Kabotie, Fred. Fred Kabotie, Hopi Indian Artist; An Autobiography. Told with Bill Belknap. Flagstaff:Museum of Northern Arizona with the Northland Press, 1977; New Mexico. University. Library. New Mexico Women Writers, Artists and Others: A Tentative Bibliography . Albuquerque: UNM Library, 1939; Raines, Lester Courtney. Writers and Writings of New Mexico. Las Vegas: Department of English, New Mexico Normal University, 1934; Tanner, Clara Lee. Southwest Indian Painting; A Changing Art. 2d ed. Tucson: University of Arizona Press,1973; Weigle, Marta and Kyle Fiore. Santa Fe and Taos; The Writer's Era, 1916-1941. Santa Fe: Ancient City Press, 1982; Who's Who in New Mexico; Biographical Sketches of Contemporary New Mexicans. Vol. 1. Compiled and edited by Michel D. Abousleman. Albuquerque: Abousleman Co., 1937.

From the guide to the Elizabeth Willis DeHuff Family Papers, 1883-1981, (University of New Mexico. Center for Southwest Research.)

Elizabeth Willis DeHuff was born to John Turner and Ann Boyd Wilson Willis of Augusta, Georgia in the latter part of the 19th century. Some sources indicate her birth year as 1892, while others suggest it was 1886. She grew up in Augusta, one of five Willis children.

Elizabeth was educated at the Lucy Cobb Institute in Athens, Georgia, and then attended Barnard College in New York City. In 1910, she took a teaching job in the Philippine Islands. While in the Philippines, she met John David DeHuff (1872-1945), another American teacher. Elizabeth returned to the United States, married John David, and in 1913 moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania where John David assumed a post at the Carlisle Indian School. In 1916, John David was appointed superintendent of the Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the couple relocated.

Elizabeth became interested in the art and culture of the Southwest. With approval from her husband, she brought boys from the Santa Fe Indian School into the DeHuff home in the afternoons for painting lessons. The boys who received training included Fred Kabotie, Otis Polelonema (both Hopi) and Velino Shije Herrera (of Zia Pueblo). In 1919, she organized an exhibit of her students' art at the Museum of New Mexico.

Controversy erupted around Elizabeth's art instruction when critics of her work with students alleged that the sessions encouraged paganism, emphasizing traditional stories and documenting tribal religious customs. In 1927 John David became secretary of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, a position he held until his death in 1945; the couple left the Santa Fe Indian School and Elizabeth's lessons ceased.

Elizabeth wrote and published several children's stories on Native American themes during and after her experience with Indian School students. Her books include Taytay's Tales, a collection of Indian traditional stories illustrated with the art of her students Fred Kabotie and Otis Polelonema, published in 1922; Taytay's Memories, published in 1924; and Swift Eagle of the Rio Grande, published in 1928. Elizabeth also wrote numerous periodical articles on American Indian, Latin American, and New Mexico historical and cultural topics. She published regularly in the magazine of the Museum of New Mexico, El Palacio . A visible figure in Santa Fe, Elizabeth lectured several nights a week from 1926 through the mid-1940s at the La Fonda Hotel as part of the Santa Fe Railroad's Indian Detours.

The DeHuffs had three children: David, Ann, and Frances. After John David's death in 1945, Elizabeth returned to Georgia where she wrote and undertook genealogical research until her death in 1983.

From the guide to the Elizabeth Willis DeHuff Collection of American Indian Art, 1917-1945, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

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http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6939m1z
Ark ID:
w6939m1z
SNAC ID:
54839212

Subjects:

  • Tourism--New Mexico
  • Art, American
  • Cheyenne art
  • Navajo art
  • Kiowa art
  • Indian art--Southwest, New
  • Painting, Modern--Twentieth Century--Southwest, New
  • Pueblo art
  • Indians of North America--Painting
  • Indian Detours
  • Indians of North America--Pictorial works
  • Authors, American--New Mexico

Occupations:

  • Teachers--New Mexico

Places:

  • Philippines (as recorded)
  • New Mexico (as recorded)