Gentry donates Native American weavings to Eiteljorg Museum and College of Education

A love of the American Southwest and Native American cultures led a Purdue College of Education professor to donate 42 weavings to the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis.

Navajo Women with Weavings, Jewelry, & Beads with Butterflies by Lorene Barber (Photo: Steve Sargent)

The late Dr. Marcia Gentry, director of the Purdue University College of Education’s Gifted Education Research and Resource Institute (GER2I) and professor in Educational Studies, donated a substantial portion of weavings she collected over a 20-year period to the Eiteljorg.

“When she began working with different school districts in the Four Corners area (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado) as part of her Purdue position, it allowed her to expand her knowledge of the many Southwest Native American art forms, eventually gravitating mostly to the weavings,” said Steve Sargent, Gentry’s husband. “Like everything else in her life, if she took an interest in something, she would fully immerse herself in it, and eventually become an expert in the subject.”

Sargent said his wife’s skill at identifying and procuring the best weavings grew over the years. She developed several mentors in the art form who were drawn to her by her equally shared passion in both the weavings and the weavers themselves. In time she became a recognized face at various sales venues such as trading posts, auctions, and fundraisers.

“I have fond memories of traveling through the Southwest with her and stopping into an art gallery along the way featuring Native American weavings,” Sargent said. “It was fun to watch her with the salesperson because she wouldn’t let on about her level of knowledge until they were pretty far along in the conversation. Eventually they’d realize she knew more than they did about Navajo weavings and then she would, in her natural ‘teacher way’, give them a master’s course on the item.”

Code Talker by Helen Begay, a tribute to the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II (Photo: Steve Sargent)

“When Marcia was in the process of her estate planning, we discussed what to do with her extensive, valuable collection,” Sargent explained. “She didn’t want it broken up and sold off piecemeal, didn’t want it to go someplace where they would all be rolled up and put in a dark storage vault or to go to someplace that didn’t have the requisite expertise in the art form.”

Gentry identified several potential facilities to donate the collection to, one of them being the Eiteljorg Museum. Pending an in-person inspection, the museum responded with tentative interest and the curator came to Gentry’s house to go through her entire collection together. Sargent explained, “After she left Marcia said, ‘She really knew her stuff.’ “I said, ‘How’s that?’ and she replied, ‘Because she took ALL my very best weavings!’”

The College of Education’s Development Office received one of the weavings that did not go to the Eiteljorg Museum. It will be displayed permanently in Beering Hall with an accompanying plaque dedicating it to Gentry and to GER2I’s ongoing work with Native American and Indigenous youth.

Vegetable-dyed Burntwater double diamond by Spider Rock Clan Matriarch Rose Yazzie (Photo: Steve Sargent)

“Marcia’s influence will be felt in the College of Education in perpetuity. She was a colleague, friend and mentor,” said Chelsea Coursey, chief development officer of the College. “It is an honor to have a treasured Najavo weaving from her well-curated collection as a symbol of the relationship between GER2I and the ongoing relationship with Native American youth.”

“It provided her a sense of inner peace and satisfaction to know that the best works of her lifelong collection had found a worthy and permanent home where they’ll be enjoyed by others for many years to come,” Sargent said.

Thank you, Dr. Gentry.

Dr. Marcia Gentry was a giant in the field of gifted, creative, and talented education. Prior to her entry into higher education, she spent 12 years in K-12 settings as a teacher and administrator. She joined the Department of Educational Studies at Purdue University’s College of Education in 2004, served as a professor in the Gifted and Talented Education program, and directed the Gifted Education Research and Resource Center (GER2I). She led GER2I to international prominence by providing innovative summer residential programs and collaborating with K-12 school partners across the nation to expand access to academically challenging curriculum and gifted instructional strategies for all students, especially underrepresented youth from low socioeconomic status, Black, Latino, and Native American communities. Prior to her death on August 31, 2022, Gentry (PI) and colleagues received a $3.2 million dollar grant for the HOPE+SIM project from the U.S. Department of Education’s Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program.

The Eiteljorg Museum tells the stories of the peoples of North America in all their diversity and complexity, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the diverse cultures of the West and Native America. From the museum’s opening in 1989, its mission has been to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history, and cultures of the American West and the Indigenous peoples of North America. It is the only museum of its kind in the Midwest, and one of only two museums east of the Mississippi that explore both Native America and the American West. Renowned programs such as the Indian Market and Festival, Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship, and the Quest for the West® Art Show and Sale have helped the museum cultivate a national reputation as a premiere cultural institution.