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Welcome to the Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts

All my life I've relied on this measured process of aesthetic absorption, whether the work is a Renaissance plaquette or a Native American wearing blanket. It involves returning over and again to the individual work of art. I revisit and bear constantly in mind the objects of my own collection, however large or small, to gain new insights. They are not trophies but instruments of passion, with the power to unexpectedly reveal mysteries.
-Ralph T. Coe, 2003

Ralph T. Coe's appreciation for indigenous arts knew no boundaries, particularly when it came to Native American peoples. Born in 1929, Coe grew up in Bratenahl, Ohio. His parents' collection included Impressionist and modern painting, as well as American, African, and decorative arts. One day at the age of fourteen, he asked his father to explain "about those pictures". This particular event, and his father's explanation, opened a new world resulting in his unknowingly choosing a marvelous life-path rich in beauty and learning.

Coe received his B.A. in Art History at Oberlin College and his M.A. from Yale in 1957. In 1959 he began his tenure at the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri, now known as the Nelson-Atkins Museum, eventually becoming director. He transformed the museum through his important acquisitions of Ancient to Contemporary art, as well as his emphasis on the art of Indigenous peoples.

During his career, Coe organized several seminal exhibitions about Native American Art. The far reaching influences of these exhibitions and their respetive catalogues continue to reverberate today. In 1976, he organized Sacred Circles: Two Thousand Years of North American Indian Art, which opened in London and traveled to the Nelson Gallery. In the 1980s he traveled tens of thousands of miles researching the exhibition Lost and Found Traditions: Native American Art 1965-1985, discovering in his travels that Native American traditions were neither "lost" nor needing to be "found" from their own perspective. Coe's approach to collecting resulted in a collection that profoundly reflects the true nature of tradition as a constantly evolving and powerful creative force. His final exhibition in 2003, The Responsive Eye: Ralph T. Coe and the Collecting of American Indian Art celebrated his promised gift of 200 objects, from his larger collection, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and led to the museum recognizing Coe as a major benefactor.

In 2007, Coe created the Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts to share his life-long passion of the study, the appreciation, and the engagement with Indigenous arts. The Foundation collection of over 2000 works is a catalyst to this endeavor. He taught that human life is interconnected, because the object is a fulcrum. An object comes into being because of the past, and only for a fleeting moment is it in the present, after which it too is part of the past, influencing the future.

Since the Foundation opened to the public in 2012, it has organized several exhibitions, highlighted by Connoisseurship and Good Pie: Ted Coe and Collecting Native Art, which opened in July 2015 at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. In addition, the Foundation has developed an ongoing series of public conversations with Native American artists, curators, and scholars, as well as partnered with the School for Advanced Research (SAR) on a 2015 lecture series regarding narrative. The collaboration with SAR continues into 2016 as we are thrilled to be working together again to organize yet another lecture series. Most exciting is our fledgling program with Santa Fe students from local schools. In 2015, the students from The Academy for Technology and the Classics learned by working with the Foundation, local museums, and collectors on curatorial practice and the art of indigenous peoples worldwide, culminating in their own exhibition of selected works from the Foundation's collection entitled Hands On: Culture Shock! I am looking forward to what they create in the coming years!

In addition to our special events, the Foundation is open by appointment. Please, we encourage you to call or email us to set up a visit at (505) 983-6372 or

Rachel de W. Wixom

President, CEO
Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts

The Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts is a 505(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Contributions are tax deductible to the extent of the Internal Revenue Code. Donate online or checks can be mailed to the Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts 1590 B Pacheco Street, Santa Fe, NM 87505. We thank you very much for your support.

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