The Olga Denison Collection of Anishinabe Art
artistic traditions of the Anishinabe, the Native peoples of Michigan
and the surrounding region, reach back in prehistory and embrace a
multitude of materials. Art continues to be an important aspect in the
contemporary life of these communities. The Olga Denison Collection of
Anishinabe art largely represents the contemporary expression of many
traditional native crafts.
The collections origins began in 1962 when the Mount
Pleasant Women's Club founded the Mae Beck Indian Affairs Committee to
support education among Indian youth. Among those supported were
several young, Native American artists. Typical of such committees, an
annual event was held to fund the organization's work. The event was a
spring card party, but to brighten the tables the young artists whom
the committee had assisted were invited to display their work. Soon
enough, the work of Native American artists was being purchased and the
activity evolved into a combined charity event and annual craft show.
Olga Denison was an original member of the Mae Beck
committee, and remained active in it throughout her long life. Shortly
after the committee's founding she began to purchase art from local
Native Americans both at the card party and on other occasions. What
began as an occasional purchase developed into both a series of
lifelong friendships and a lifelong interest in collecting contemporary
Anishinabe art. The result is a body of material of unusual breadth
In the latter years of her life, Ms. Denison lent much of
her collection of Anishinabe art for display at Central Michigan
University. In 2006 a major exhibition of the Denison collection
occurred on the CMU campus, which displayed much, but not all, of the
collection. This web exhibit is built upon the 2006 Denison exhibit.
Ms. Denison died shortly after the exhibit opened. Under the
terms of a previously signed agreement, the Denison collection has
became the property of CMU and, as a result of the Ms. Denison's
generosity, part of the cultural patrimony of the people of Michigan.