The Wheelwright Museum (originally called the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art) was founded in 1937 by Mary Cabot Wheelwright. Wheelwright was well-traveled and had a particular interest in religions. In fact, she worked closely with a Navajo medicine man named Hastiin Klah when establishing the museum. Klah was born during a time when most members of his tribe were being held captive by the United States government. Children were being removed from their homes and separated from their families. One goal of the captivation was to convert the Native Americans to Christianity and the American way of life.
Wheelwright and Klah decided to join forces to preserve the ritual knowledge and creation story of the Navajo religion. It soon became clear that they would need a museum to house sound recordings, paintings, tapestries, and other artistic works. Klah passed away before the museum was finished, but he blessed the ground on which the museum stands beforehand.
In 1977, the museum agreed to return some of its artifacts and other items back to the Navajo people, who had begun to establish their own governance system. With this repatriation, the museum shifted its focus away from Navajo religion toward art and culture. In addition, the museum changed its name from the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art to its current name.
The Wheelwright Museum has a world-renowned collection of Navajo art and culture that spans from 1850 to present-day. In fact, the museum has the world's most comprehensive collection of Pueblo and Navajo jewelry.
Cover photo by Andrew James on Unsplash.