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Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton  (b. 1889, d. 1971)
Mary-Russell Ferrell
Colton
Museum of Northern Arizona
Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton and her husband, Harold S. Colton founded the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) in Flagstaff in 1928. Originally from Pennsylvania, the Coltons moved to Flagstaff in 1926. Two years later, they donated $2,500 to found the MNA to preserve the history and cultures of northern Arizona. They both worked in the museum, Harold as director and Mary-Russell as curator of art and ethnology.

Region: Northern Arizona
Theme: Women in Historic Preservation and in the Arts

Mary-Russell Colton had attended the Philadelphia School of Design for Women when she was just fifteen. She trained as an artist and also learned to clean and restore old paintings. Dr. Harold Colton was a zoologist who specialized in archaeology after moving to Arizona. The couple discovered the Southwest during their honeymoon trip in 1912 and grew to love Arizona. After relocating to Flagstaff they worked to expand understanding of Indian cultures in northern Arizona and to preserve, collect, and catalog thousands of native artifacts and works of art. Mary-Russell Colton also organized the Arizona Arts and Crafts Show which became the first exhibition open to all Arizona artists. She took a strong interest in Hopi arts and crafts and worked to revive traditional Hopi silver smithing, pottery and weaving. Colton founded another event, the Hopi Craftsman Show, to showcase Hopi art, to foster sales of this artwork, and to provide a financial incentive for Hopis to improve their techniques. Later she founded the Navajo Craftsman Exhibition. Both events were very successful and continue to this day as the museum's Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture (held in early July) and the Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture (held in late July).

As an artist herself, Colton painted western landscapes and portraits of American Indians. Some of her colorful paintings are exhibited at the MNA. During her lifetime, she exhibited and sold her artwork around the U.S., receiving critical acclaim in Philadelphia and New York City. In addition, she developed programs in art education for local residents and acted as curator for numerous exhibitions at the museum. In 1959, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board of the U.S. Department of Interior awarded her a Citation of Merit. Colton was inducted into the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame in 1981, its inaugural year.

Visit the Museum of Northern Arizona 3101 N. Ft. Valley Rd. in Flagstaff to learn more about Mary-Russell Colton.

Photo Credits:
Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton - Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona
Museum of Northern Arizona - Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona

 

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