John C. Ewers

John C. Ewers (1909-1997) was one of the nation's foremost scholars in the ethnology of the Plains Indians and the history of the West. He was educated at Dartmouth and Yale. Before entering Yale, he spent a year at the Art Students' League in New York where he further developed his own artistic talent and his particular appreciation for material culture and the visual arts. At Yale, under the direction of Clark Wissler, he began his lifelong interest in Plains Indian culture, particularly that of the Blackfeet and their neighbors. While working on his master's paper, he studied museum collections throughout the United States and Canada. The paper was published in 1939 as his first book, Plains Indian Painting: A Description of an Aboriginal American Art. In the latter half of the 1930s, Ewers worked as a field curator for the National Park Service, followed by service with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Browning, Montana, where he planned and supervised the development of a Plains Indian museum. After two years in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he was hired by the Smithsonian Institution first as associate curator of ethnology and later as assistant director and then director of what is now the National Museum of American History (then the Museum of History and Technology). In 1965 he was the first recipient of the Smithsonian Institution's Exceptional Service Award. Following his post as museum director, he became a senior scientist/ethnologist until his retirement in 1978. Ewers has published widely, including such well-known titles as The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture, The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains, Artists of the Old West, and Plains Indian Sculpture: a Traditional Art from America's Heartland. His contributions to the history of the West, Plains Indian ethnology, and museology have brought him many honorary degrees and awards, among them the Oscar O. Winther Memorial award of the Western History Association and the Honor Award of the Native American Art Studies Association. Ewers continued to be very active professionally, conducting research, publishing, speaking publicly, and attending conferences until his death May 7, 1997.

Margaret R. Dittemore, Librarian
Anthropology Branch Library, Natural and Physical Sciences Department
Smithsonian Institution Libraries

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Updated: February 9, 1999