epending on your age, you might know Vincent Price as House of Wax's Professor Henry Jarrod, the man behind the maniacal laugh at the end of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, Edward Scissorhands' father figure or the parodied character in Saturday Night Live's holiday specials spoofs. Ryan Flahive, archivist at the Institute of American Indian Arts, knows him as a champion for Native American arts—one whose help was instrumental in the creation of IAIA. He'll be discussing this chapter of Price's life Wednesday at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.
"In 1934 the [Indian] Arts and Crafts Board was created during the New Deal," Flahive explains, surrounded by stacks of photographs and clippings, videocassette tapes and a pair of worn white cotton inspection gloves. "The board was there to set trade standards for Native arts and crafts, and they're the ones that created this school."
Price, who was widely known for his roles onstage as well as on TV and in a slew of campy horror movies, was a lifelong art lover. In 1933, before becoming a household name, he'd graduated with a degree in art history from Yale University. In 1951, he donated close to 100 pieces from his personal collection to the East Los Angeles College, thus establishing the Vincent Price Museum. A decade later, Price teamed up with Sears-Roebuck to offer fine art to the masses—including works by Rembrandt, Chagall, Picasso and Dalí.
It was around that time that Price visited the budding Santa Fe school.
As recalled in Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography penned by his daughter Victoria, a Santa Fe resident, Price recognizes that he was appointed to the five-man commission by the Secretary of Interior not just because of his love for Native art, but because of his star power. Moreover, he would later jest, "I was appointed under the Eisenhower administration…which is kind of surprising since I am a Democrat."
"He was known as an art connoisseur for most of his life; he was also a very outspoken critic of federal policy concerning minorities—Native people in particular," Flahive explains, adding that as part of his appointment, Price visited IAIA when it was created by the board on the early '60s, and "was very taken by the writing prowess of IAIA's poets and prose writers."
During that initial visit, the celebrated figure established the "Vincent Price Awards in Creative Writing"—a stipend awarded to students every spring until 1972.
"In my mind, the awards set a precedent and foundation for the strong creative writing program at IAIA—which now is our first and only MFA program," the archivist says. "I'm not sure creative writing would have been as successful at IAIA without Price's early support."
According to Andrea Hanley, MoCNA's membership and program manager, shining a light on lesser-known passages of contemporary Native American art history is what the "Brown Bag It" series is all about.
"He was devoted to both this community and to American Indian arts," she says of Price's early support. "It's very intriguing and really amazing—because he was passionate about it."
From continued visits to narrating an early recruitment film and reading poetry students' work on The Johnny Carson Show, Price would support IAIA in any way he could.
“To much of the world, one of the most important aspects of our ofttimes challenged cultural prowess, past and present, is the contribution to the historic lore and the continuing cultural fact of the American Indian,” Price wrote in the first volume of
Native American Arts
, an Indian Arts and Crafts Board magazine. “If anyone chooses to question this they will have to admit that the Indian contribution to the world picture of America has been and still is the most glamorous, romantic and intriguing.”
For Flahive, Price's contribution to the understanding of Native American arts, as well as his love for the region, was immeasurable.
"He absolutely knew that Santa Fe was the hub for Native American art—always has been, always will be," he says. "And that's why they put us here."
He hopes the Hollywood legend would approve of the growth IAIA has experienced after his passing.
"Oh, I think he'd love it," Flahive says. "Especially the creative writing program. I don't thing we get to that point without Vincent Price…I think he'd be flabbergasted at the quality of work coming not only from our writers but our painters, our filmmakers, and really, from a whole new breed of liberal studies folks who are going on to be the next judges and lawyers for Native people."
Noon-1 pm Wednesday, July 23. Free.
Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
108 Cathedral Place,
Santa Fe Reporter