Map­ping the West In­dian Sum­mer, 1835-1985

In­dian Sum­mer, 1835-1985

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Michael Abatemarco

IN­his Let­ters and Notes on the Man­ners, Cus­toms, and Con­di­tions of North Amer­i­can In­di­ans, pub­lished in London in 1844, artist, au­thor, and ex­plorer Ge­orge Catlin (1796-1872) wrote of pen­e­trat­ing the “vast and path­less wilds” of North Amer­ica and his 1832 ex­pe­di­tion to doc­u­ment “an in­ter­est­ing race of peo­ple, who are rapidly pass­ing away from the face of the earth. …” No doubt Catlin and his con­tem­po­raries be­lieved this sen­ti­ment at the time, writ­ing at the ad­vent of the steam en­gine, whose great plumes of smoke and churn­ing en­gines her­alded the in­ex­orable ex­pan­sion west. Though ethno­graphic in their in­tent, 19th-cen­tury ex­pe­di­tions up the Mis­souri, which roughly fol­lowed the route mapped out decades be­fore by Meri­wether Lewis and William Clark, were tinged by a Ro­man­tic ide­al­ism that would come to dom­i­nate artis­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Na­tive Amer­i­cans and the Amer­i­can West. But artists painted what they saw on those ex­pe­di­tions, only later em­ploy­ing greater artis­tic li­cense in their visual de­pic­tions of in­dige­nous tribes. Na­tive peo­ples went from be­ing viewed as cu­riosi­ties — their por­traits ren­dered al­most as though they were spec­i­mens on a par with John James Audubon’s de­pic­tions of the flora and fauna of North Amer­ica — to be­ing seen as no­ble sav­ages, heroic but also anachro­nis­tic. There was no place for Na­tive Amer­i­cans in the grow­ing na­tion’s vi­sion of Man­i­fest Destiny.

The tran­si­tion from sci­en­tific in­quiry to Ro­man­tic ide­al­ism is the gen­eral theme of In­dian Sum­mer,

1835-1985, an ex­hibit of his­toric art­work, maps, and books at William R. Tal­bot Fine Art, open­ing Fri­day, Aug. 12. The ex­hibit is com­posed pri­mar­ily of 19th-cen­tury prints but also in­cludes 20th-cen­tury paint­ing, photography, and works on pa­per that show

shift­ing at­ti­tudes in rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Amer­i­can In­dian over time. “It be­gins with a 19th-cen­tury Amer­i­can ethno­graphic ap­proach, par­tic­u­larly the Karl Bod­mer prints,” Tal­bot told Pasatiempo, re­fer­ring to Swiss artist Jo­hann Carl Bod­mer (1809-1893), who ac­com­pa­nied Ger­man an­thro­pol­o­gist Prince Max­i­m­il­ian zu Wied-Neuwied (1782-1867) on his his­toric ex­pe­di­tion to North Amer­ica’s Great Plains in 1832. Among the prints on dis­play is a map that clearly de­lin­eates the route of their ex­pe­di­tion, more de­tailed and ac­cu­rate than the one of the Lewis and Clark ex­pe­di­tion, which Tal­bot also has in his col­lec­tion. “The map il­lus­trates ex­actly the Bod­merMax­i­m­il­ian ex­pe­di­tion,” said Tal­bot. “The prints were pub­lished be­tween 1839 and 1842. The whole trip was two years: from Europe, land­ing in Bos­ton, then trav­el­ing by the river high­ways. Lewis and Clark went all the way to the West Coast, of course. That was in 1804 through 1806. Their map was pub­lished in Philadel­phia in 1814. Clearly, Max­i­m­il­ian had a copy of the Lewis and Clark map. There are sim­i­lar­i­ties.” Tal­bot’s Lewis and Clark map is a re­strike printed from the orig­i­nal cop­per plate ex­actly the way it would have been done in 1814. “The Bod­mer and Max­i­m­il­ian ex­pe­di­tion stopped in the Man­dan coun­try,” he said. “They didn’t go all the way to the West Coast.”

The Bod­mer-Max­i­m­il­ian map de­tails the ter­ri­to­ries of the Chippewa, the Omaha, Assini­boines, and Pawnee, among the ter­ri­to­ries of other in­dige­nous tribes. Their ven­ture ended in the area known to­day as the Dako­tas. “There’s not an­other map of the 19th cen­tury that il­lus­trates West­ern In­dian lands and tribes like this map does,” said Tal­bot. “It’s rather unique that way. So this is a very im­por­tant map which ac­com­pa­nies all of the plates, In­dian por­traits, and so forth that were taken from wa­ter­col­ors done by Bod­mer. In­stead of a cam­era, he was paint­ing with wa­ter­col­ors. The cop­per plates were en­graved from the paint­ings and then printed. Some were hand-col­ored.”

Though Ge­orge Catlin’s ear­lier record of his en­coun­ters with Amer­i­can In­di­ans was, per­haps, not with­out sym­pa­thy for their plight, it was Colonel Thomas Lo­raine McKen­ney (1785-1859), su­per­in­ten­dent of In­dian Af­fairs from 1824 to 1830, who ar­gued that in­dige­nous peo­ples were the equal of the white man in body and soul. But McKen­ney, too, saw the en­croach­ing pres­ence of Euro­pean Amer­i­cans on In­dian lands as in­dica­tive of the de­cline and ex­tinc­tion of their ways of life. Tal­bot has a rare fourth edi­tion three-vol­ume oc­tavo set of McKen­ney and James Hall’s (1793-1868) His­tory of the In­dian Tribes

of North Amer­ica that was pub­lished in Philadel­phia in 1858. The mon­u­men­tal work, which in­cludes 120 litho­graphic and chro­molitho­graphic plates, first ap­peared in a large fo­lio edi­tion is­sued be­tween 1836 and 1844. Many of the Na­tive por­traits were from com­mis­sioned paint­ings by painter Charles Bird King (1785-1862), who cap­tured the like­nesses of tribal lead­ers who had come as del­e­gates to Washington, D.C., or whom McKen­ney en­coun­tered on the fron­tier while ne­go­ti­at­ing treaties. Not con­tent with brief de­scrip­tions, he hu­man­ized the project by get­ting Hall to write lengthy and, ac­cord­ing to Tal­bot, some­times un­flinch­ing bi­ogra­phies of the lead­ers and tribes­men.

Not much later, in the mid-19th cen­tury, ethno­graphic and de­scrip­tive cat­a­logu­ing of Na­tive peo­ples gave way to nar­ra­tive scenes that be­came wildly pop­u­lar with the Amer­i­can and Euro­pean pub­lic. An idyl­lic im­age of an In­dian en­camp­ment at the base of the Rocky Moun­tains epit­o­mizes this aes­thetic shift. The print is a black-and-white en­grav­ing by James Smil­lie (1833-1909) af­ter Ger­man-born artist Al­bert Bier­stadt’s (1830-1902) well-known Ro­man­tic paint­ing The Rocky Moun­tains, Lan­der’s Peak from 1863. “It’s a much more artis­tic in­ter­pre­ta­tion by Bier­stadt, and he was known as one of the most fa­mous artists depict­ing the Amer­i­can West in the 19th cen­tury,” Tal­bot said. “But it’s on a Euro­pean slant, him be­ing from Ger­many and hav­ing stud­ied in Europe.” The en­grav­ing was based on Bier­stadt’s orig­i­nal. “The paint­ing was done on a magnificent, large scale. It went on tour in Europe and Amer­ica,” Tal­bot said. “Amer­i­cans and Euro­peans were very cu­ri­ous about Na­tive Amer­i­cans. When peo­ple be­gan to travel to the West, they re­al­ized that, no, it doesn’t re­ally look like Bier­stadt’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion. It’s been said that he cre­ated the Swiss Alps of Amer­ica, be­cause the Rock­ies don’t look like that.”

Bier­stadt’s nar­ra­tive works be­came syn­ony­mous with the bu­colic, mythic de­pic­tions of Amer­ica’s in­dige­nous cul­tures. A pho­togravure in In­dian

Sum­mer, based on an orig­i­nal oil paint­ing that is now in the col­lec­tion of the Cor­co­ran Gallery of Art, de­picts a hunter on the plains driv­ing a spear into a charg­ing buf­falo. It’s a dra­matic work that is per­haps as iconic as sculp­tor James Earle Fraser’s End of the

Trail. “It had an early ti­tle called The Buf­falo Hunt,” Tal­bot said. The orig­i­nal paint­ing is the pin­na­cle of the ro­man­ti­cized vi­sion of the West; the name change to Last of the Buf­falo draws de­lib­er­ate com­par­i­son, it seems, be­tween what 19th-cen­tury so­ci­ety saw as the ex­tinc­tion of a race of man to the ex­tinc­tion of a beast — the phras­ing “last of the buf­falo” was code for the last of the Amer­i­can In­dian. But the im­ages from this pe­riod in Amer­ica’s his­tory — though its ef­fects still linger and though much of tribal knowl­edge and cul­ture, not to men­tion life, was lost — was a re­flec­tion of the at­ti­tudes of 19th-cen­tury and early-20th-cen­tury so­ci­ety that have them­selves proved anachro­nis­tic. To­day, af­ter all, even the buf­falo en­dure.

Af­ter Pe­ter Rindis­bacher: Hunt­ing the Buf­faloe, 1837, litho­graph with orig­i­nal hand color from His­tory of the In­dian Tribes of North Amer­ica by Thomas McKen­ney and James Hall; bot­tom left, McKen­ney & Hall, His­tory of the In­dian Tribes of North Amer­ica

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