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Philip Deloria, "Becoming Mary Sully" | SD Festival of Books discussion

Philip J. Deloria
Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020

Event Details

The South Dakota Art Museum is pleased to co-host this South Dakota Festival of Books VIRTUAL presentation with Philip Deloria, Harvard professor and author of "Becoming Mary Sully," "Playing Indian" and "Indians in Unexpected Places."

Philip J. Deloria is the Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History at Harvard University, where his research and teaching focus on the social, cultural, and political histories of the relations among American Indian peoples and the United States. Deloria received his Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University and has taught at the University of Colorado and the University of Michigan. He chairs the Repatriation Committee of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

"Becoming Mary Sully" book summary

Dakota Sioux artist Mary Sully was the great-granddaughter of respected nineteenth-century portraitist Thomas Sully, who captured the personalities of America's first generation of celebrities (including the figure of Andrew Jackson immortalized on the twenty-dollar bill). Born on the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota in 1896, she was largely self-taught. Steeped in the visual traditions of beadwork, quilling and hide painting, she also engaged with the experiments in time, space, symbolism, and representation characteristic of early twentieth-century modernist art. And like her great-grandfather Sully was fascinated by celebrity: over two decades, she produced hundreds of colorful and dynamic abstract triptychs, a series of "personality prints" of American public figures like Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth and Gertrude Stein.

Sully's position on the margins of the art world meant that her work was exhibited only a handful of times during her life. In Becoming Mary Sully, Philip J. Deloria reclaims that work from obscurity, exploring her stunning portfolio through the lenses of modernism, industrial design, Dakota women's aesthetics, mental health, ethnography and anthropology, primitivism, and the American Indian politics of the 1930s. Working in a complex territory oscillating between representation, symbolism, and abstraction, Sully evoked multiple and simultaneous perspectives of time and space. With an intimate yet sweeping style, Deloria recovers in Sully's work a move toward an anti-colonial aesthetic that claimed a critical role for Indigenous women in American Indian futures―within and distinct from American modernity and modernism.

Book Summary Source

Learn more about Professor Deloria


  1. Register for a free pass to this session and SD Book Festival sessions throughout the month of October - Festival of Books.
  2. You will receive a confirmation email from the South Dakota Humanities Council with a passcode to use for all Book Festival sessions.
  3. To view this session with Philip Deloria, on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Central, visit Festival of Books and scroll down the chronological event schedule to the October 6 Philip Deloria event. There, they can click on a “JOIN EVENT NOW” link which will take you to a Zoom screen where they can enter the passcode from your confirmation email and enter the session. 

Event Audience

Public includes SDSU Faculty/Staff/Students SDSU Faculty/Staff SDSU Students
Philip J. Deloria | "Becoming Mary Sully" in Words and Images