Wonderful Women Wednesday: Dr. Cynthia Chavez Lamar

Each week, the Archives features a woman who has been a groundbreaker at the Smithsonian, past or present, in a series titled Wonderful Women Wednesday.

Last week, Dr. Cynthia Chavez Lamar was named director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Chavez Lamar has worked at the Museum throughout her career, from an internship in 1994 to her current role as acting associate director for collections and operations. Between 2000 and 2005, she was an associate curator, leading the work on “Our Lives,” one of three inaugural exhibitions at the Washington, D.C. museum. She returned to the Smithsonian in 2014 as the Museum’s assistant director for collections at the museum. 

Chavez Lamar is the first Native woman to be named director of the Museum and only the third director in its history. She is an enrolled member at San Felipe Pueblo. Her ancestry also includes Hopi, Tewa and Navajo on the maternal side of her family. 

Portrait of Cynthia Chavez Lamar. Her hair is shoulder-length and she had bangs. Her top is black an

Chavez Lamar’s role as director of the Smithsonian Museum will not be her first experience at the head of a cultural heritage institution. She was the director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico (2007–14) and the director of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico (2006-07).

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Colorado College in studio art, a master’s degree in American Indian studies from UCLA and a doctorate in American studies from the University of New Mexico. 

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