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In the annals of Native American art history, Ralph T. Coe (1929-2010) ranks as one of the good guys. A scion of a wealthy Ohio family, he grew up amid Impressionist art, but he appreciated the aesthetic value of Indian art and strove to persuade reluctant art museums, which mainly recognized its ethnographic significance.

Trained in art history at Oberlin and Yale, and eventually director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, “Ted” Coe made his first purchase—a Northwest Coast totem pole—at age 26. By the time he died, he left some 2,000 pieces to the Ralph T. Coe Foundation, which has lent about 200 of them to the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian here for “Connoisseurship and Good Pie: Ted Coe and Collecting Native Art.”

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