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Alumni Spotlight: Rose Marie Cutropia ’14

Jun 5, 2024

Rose Marie Cutropia ’14

Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) Assistant Archivist and Alum Rose Marie Cutropia ’14 has been involved at IAIA for over a decade, contributing back to the community through her careful processing of information and files in the Collection and Archives at IAIA. “I found a home here. I really love being here. I love the people,” she says. Ms. Cutropia graduated with a BFA in Museum Studies, realizing a long-held dream to work in the museum field. Since childhood, she has happily visited museums—her parents would take her to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where she would become absorbed in the art, and in her adulthood, she has regularly made a point to visit museums.

Ms. Cutropia first came to Santa Fe from New Jersey in 2001. Shortly after she arrived, she took a beadwork class at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian from Tammy Rahr Tallchief (Cayuga) ’12. “This was the beginning of a friendship that has lasted over 20 years,” says Ms. Cutropia. After returning to New Jersey in 2005 for a position as an interior designer in an architectural firm, Ms. Cutropia lost her job during the 2008 recession. “And my very good friend Tammy, who was a student at IAIA at the time, said, ‘You just need to come to my school. You just need to come to my school.’ And I kept saying, ‘I can’t move from New Jersey back to Santa Fe with all my stuff. I just can’t do it.’”

However, she found herself saying, “Gee, I just need to go to her school.” She decided to enroll in IAIA’s Museum Studies program, coming to IAIA with a bachelor’s in the history of religion from Vassar College, where she also studied the Italian language and art history, in addition to interior design studies through a continuing education program. Arriving on campus in 2011, Ms. Cutropia went to the student orientation, where IAIA Archivist Ryan Flahive made a presentation about the school and its history. “And, I said to my daughter, who had accompanied me, ‘I have no idea what this young man teaches, but I’m going to take as many of his classes as I possibly can,’ and I started off with Archives 101. And after I got into it—about two weeks in—I realized that I have been doing this kind of work all my life. That’s the way my brain has always functioned. That archiving could become a new profession for me was a life-changing realization.”

Ms. Cutropia lived on campus for the first year, sharing a dorm room with the late Clarissa Rizal Hudson (Tlingit). Although neither Ms. Cutropia nor Ms. Hudson originally wanted a roommate, they became close friends. “She would wake me up by saying, ‘Are you awake?’ And, of course, I wasn’t, but I immediately said, ‘Yes!’ and then she’d start telling me some amazing story. She was incredible.” Ms. Cutropia began to see parallels between her Italian-American cultural heritage and that of her Indigenous peers. “I realized that we have very similar beliefs and appreciations. Family, food, faith, respect—especially respect for elders—were critical elements for all of us. I really felt when I got here that I had found an incredible place. I found a home here, and I’ve never left,” she says.

Partway through her studies at IAIA, she decided to get a master’s in museum studies in Italy but soon came back to IAIA. “I really believe that the undergraduate education I was getting here at IAIA was better than what I was learning at the graduate level in Florence. Even though I was living across from my favorite museum—the Pitti Palace—that still didn’t make me want to stay. So, I quit and came back to finish up my bachelor’s degree here at IAIA and was much happier and learned so much more while I was here than I had in Italy.”

As a student worker, Ms. Cutropia began processing files in the IAIA Archives. “The Winona M. Garmhausen Papers (IAIAMS007) revolved around a doctoral thesis in which Ms. Garmhausen stated her belief that IAIA was better academically during its first five years under the leadership of BIA Superintendent George Boyce than it was during the subsequent tenure of Lloyd New. I read some of Mr. New’s writings in this collection and thoroughly disagreed,” she explains. “Lloyd New was brilliant.”

Ms. Cutropia next worked on the Lloyd H. New Papers (IAIAMS015), which informed the direction of her senior project. “So, Lloyd’s basic premise was that cultural heritage should be the natural basis for art expression. He believed that Native American students needed to use their culture as a jumping-off point for their creative work, not recreating its symbology verbatim but as the inspiration for their artwork. And I understood that, both from what I saw with my friends in IAIA and in what I knew from my own cultural heritage. And that’s what Lloyd was trying to get his students to understand.”

Bringing her museum studies education and interior design experiences together, Ms. Cutropia wrote a thesis paper and created an installation about New and his influence on students as IAIA’s first Art Director. “Being introduced to Mrs. Aysen New, Lloyd New’s widow, by Ryan Flahive, was an amazing opportunity for me,” says Ms. Cutropia. “Mrs. New lent me some of her husband’s fabrics from his Scottsdale days, which I then had professionally photographed. I called them interpretive reproductions because I took the basic design and then multiplied it several times and had it printed on new fabric.”

Ms. Cutropia then installed these designs by New and his students in the Library and Technology Building hallway. “So, there were yards and yards of fabric with his designs draped and framed on the walls, along with some other of his designs that I had printed on wrapping paper, cut into long strips, and hung from the ceiling so that when the air conditioner went on, it blew in the breeze.” At the request of Dr. Robert Martin (Cherokee Nation), her installation was expanded upon and displayed at a Native arts sale at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. Flahive and IAIA Curator of Collections Tatiana Lomahaftewa-Singer (Choctaw and Hopi) asked Ms. Cutropia to further build upon her work for the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art’s 2016 three-part exhibition Lloyd Kiva New: Art, Design, and Influence. For MoCNA’s Fritz Scholder Gallery, she also arranged a display of New’s work inspired by his retail store in Scottsdale, Arizona.

After graduating with her degree in 2014, Ms. Cutropia worked for Lomahaftewa-Singer as a metadata specialist, entering object and photographic information into the collections database, and for Flahive as an archival processing contractor. In 2022, IAIA hired Ms. Cutropia as Assistant Archivist. Her ongoing curiosity keeps her work engaging. Throughout her time at IAIA, Ms. Cutropia has processed a range of archival collections: the Robert Neff Harcourt Papers (IAIAMS008), the Kay V. Wiest Negative Collection (IAIAMS010), the Native American Videotape Collection (IAIAMS011), the Museum Studies Resource Files (IAIMS016), the Suzan Shown Harjo Papers (IAIAMS028)—including the Seeing Red Radio Archive (IAIAMS030), and the Nancy Marie Mithlo Papers (IAIAMS032). She has also processed museum administrative and exhibition records, artist files, audio-video collections, and IAIA printed matter.

“I love doing this work. I really love it. I love looking at all the different collections and reading and discovering amazing new things,” she shares.

Learn more about and search IAIA’s Collection and Archives on the IAIA Research Center for Contemporary Native Arts (RCCNA) website.

Quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.

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