Bertha Dutton

Born in 1903, Bertha Pauline Dutton grew up on a farm in Algona, Iowa. Her favorite subjects in school were classical art, history and literature. After high school she enrolled in the Lincoln [Nebraska] School of Commerce. Then she attended the University of Nebraska from 1929 to 1931. She worked part-time as a bank teller, had a couple other jobs and thought that kind of work might be all there was in her future. Then one evening in 1931 she stepped off a city bus and was hit by a drunk driver.

She had several visitors while recuperating in the hospital. One of them, one of her teachers, suggested she might want to do something different when she got home again. She might want to check out the anthropology department at the University of New Mexico, she might find that more interesting and in line with her own natural interests. With her insurance money she bought a car and drove to Albuquerque. Shortly she was employed as a secretary in the University of New Mexico Department of Anthropology.

Bertha earned her BA in 1935 and her MA in 1937. She was immediately hired by Edgar Lee Hewitt as his administrative assistant at the Museum of New Mexico. Shortly she convinced him that archaeology exhibits needed ethnography exhibits to go with them. He agreed and promoted her to the museum’s curator of ethnography in 1939. She held that position until 1959. She was the curator of interpretive exhibits until 1962 and head of the Division of Research until she retired in 1965. She remained a research associate with the museum for the rest of her life.

From 1947 to 1957, Bertha taught the museum’s television and adult education classes. In those same years she led 27 archaeological mobile and excavation camps with senior Girl Scouts (girls ages 15 to 18), introducing more than 300 girls from across the country to dig into and learn about the ancient history of the Southwest. Her excavation projects were in the Galisteo Basin, Chaco Canyon, the Jemez Mountains and the Abo area of Salinas Missions National Monument. As a research associate of the School for Advanced Research Bertha also got to excavate in Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico.

Bertha became an internationally recognized scholar with interests ranging from researching the history of Indians of the Southwest to interpreting and preserving their present culture and crafts. At the Museum of New Mexico she was responsible for designing exhibits communicating the state’s Indian cultures to visitors. She presented scientific papers at international conferences and was equally skilled at giving popular lectures interpreting Indian culture to the general public. Bertha was the first woman member of the advisory committee for the National Park Service.

In 1952 she earned her PhD from Columbia University. After she retired from the Museum of New Mexico in 1965 she became the Director of the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art (which is now the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian). Bertha retired from that position in 1975 and passed away in 1994.

Through the 1930s, Bertha would often go to one pueblo or another for a few days and meet the women. She was especially interested in the potters and commissioned particular pots from many of them. Her collection grew quite large and each pot was catalogued with files of information about each, the potter who made it and sometimes photos of her, but always photos of the pot. You know a Bertha Dutton pot by the name, date and other data recorded on the bottom.

Some of Bertha’s Publications

Łeyit Kin, a small house ruin, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico; excavation report, 1938
The Jemez Mountain region, 1938
A history of plumbate ware, 1942
Excavations at Tajumulco, Guatemala, 1943
The Pueblo Indian World: Studies on the Natural History of the Río Grande Valley in relation to Pueblo Indian culture, 1945
Indian Arts and Crafts of the Southwest in the Santa Fe Indian Village, Chicago Railroad Fair, 1948
The Toltecs and their influence on the culture of Chichen Itza, 1951
Highlights of the Jémez region, 1952
Pocket handbook, New Mexico Indians, 1953
New Mexico Indians and their Arizona neighbors, 1955
Tula of the Toltecs, 1955
Indian Artistry in Wood and Other Media: An Exhibition in the Hall of Ethnology, Museum of New Mexico, 1957
Navaho ceremonies, 1958
An Archaeological Survey of the Proposed Galisteo Dam and Reservoir, 1960
Indians of the Southwest, 1961
Let’s Explore Indian Villages, Past & Present. Tour guide for Santa Fe area, 1962
Indian Villages, Past & Present, 1962
Happy People: the Huichol Indians, 1962
Sun Father’s Way; the Kiva Murals of Kuaua; a Pueblo ruin, Coronado State Monument, New Mexico, 1963
Friendly People: the Zuñi Indians, 1963
New Mexico Indian Reservations and Pueblos, 1964
New Mexico’s Indians of today, 1964
Let’s Explore Indian Villages, Past & Present. Tour guide for Santa Fe area, 1970
Navajo weaving today, 1975
Indians of the American Southwest, 1976
The Pueblos, 1977
The Ranchería, Ute, and Southern Paiute peoples, 1977
The Laguna calendar, 1977
Navahos and Apaches: the Athabascan peoples, 1977
Navajo, Pima, Apache, 1978
Hopi, Acoma, Tewa, Zuni, 1986
Navajo, Pima, Apache, 1986
Myths and Legends of the Indians of the Southwest Book I, Hopi, Acoma, Tewa, Zuni, 1987
Myths and Legends of the Indians of the Southwest Book II, Navajo, Pima, Apache, 1987