“Playing Indian” in the American Southwest: the Development of the Pueblo Revival Style, 1890 – 1930

Harlan, Gabrielle, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Crane, Sheila, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

This dissertation focuses on the development of the Pueblo Revival Style in the American Southwest at the turn of the twentieth century. It was one of several regional styles that emerged at this time. Buildings executed in the Pueblo Revival Style were based upon the buildings long constructed in the Southwest by the Pueblo Indians. However, at the turn of the twentieth century, this revival of building forms was not one in which Pueblo Indian people, themselves, engaged. Instead, the Pueblo Revival Style refers to the constructions of white Americans who began to design and commission buildings in the style of pueblos for their own use. Therefore, the development of what is today called the Pueblo Revival Style more aptly would be termed an “appropriation,” rather than a “revival,” for it represents not the resurgence of building practices by Pueblo Indians, but the adoption—and adaptation—of building practices by an entirely new group of people.

Central to this dissertation is the idea of “Playing Indian,” a concept previously articulated by the scholar Philip Deloria in his 1998 book of that title. Deloria argues that white Americans’ definitions of identity were tied inextricably to those of Native Americans ever since the pre-Revolutionary era. In essence, in order for white Americans to define their own identities, a sense of self required them to define what they were not—an “other.” Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, white Americans began to play Indian architecturally as they built structures that were based on Indian models, such as wigwams and teepees.

This kind of play by white Americans also appears to have intensified in the latter half of the nineteenth century. As archaeological and anthropological activity of the late nineteenth century increasingly came to center on the ancient and modern pueblos of the American Southwest, white Americans increasingly began to turn towards them as a model for their own building endeavors. This dissertation works to explore what particular meanings the pueblos carried for the white Americans who began to appropriate them with an increasing frequency at the turn of the twentieth century.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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