Toll paintings of Southwest cultures at Gibbs

Rare window into Native American tradition

Jan 05, 2013
Paintings depicting Native American dances, ceremonies and traditions by Henry C. Toll are featured this winter at Gibbs Library in Washington.

Washington — Gibbs Library will host a show of Native American paintings by Henry C. Toll Wednesday, Jan. 9 through March 6. Toll was the father of Madelon Kelly, the librarian at Gibbs Library, located in the village at 40 Old Union Road. An opening celebration will be held at the library Saturday, Jan. 12 from 4 to 6 p.m.

Toll worked in New Mexico as an architect, first for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and then for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, designing housing and health centers on reservations all along the Rio Grande River. Throughout his years of working on these reservations, as well as the Hopi and Zuni reservations, Toll developed many close friendships with Native Americans and was invited to attend a wide variety of ceremonial dances.

At the dances, Toll never took photographs or even made sketches, as such activities would have disrespectful. Instead, he memorized the costumes and choreography of the dances, later making notes which he used to create the paintings. Because he felt he should not profit from Native American culture, Toll never sold his paintings. Archaeologists in New Mexico have praised them as a remarkable documentation of these Southwest cultures.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or

Comments (1)
Posted by: David J Rockwell | Jan 06, 2013 09:11

I've spent a great deal of time in Zuni. I am pleased that Henry Toll carefully observed the pueblo's restrictions against taking photographs, or on site drawing of ceremonial activity. It's important to respect the cultures of these vibrant societies. I look forward to seeing the exhibit.

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