Indians in the Archives

Newberry Staff

What do historical images of American Indian peoples tell us about the evolving relationships between Indians and non-Indians? What valuable information about our past and ourselves can we glean from artworks that portray indigenous peoples and also the materials that artists used?

Introduction

From early contact periods through the nineteenth century, artists, anthropologists, soldiers, and travelers produced representations of Indian peoples in a variety of media including drawings and paintings, mass-produced prints, photographs, and illustrations for books and periodicals. These images were extremely popular with American and European audiences, and these various visual representations shaped American national identity and perceptions of America’s indigenous peoples.

This collection focuses on artwork from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and includes works by both American Indian and Euro-American artists.

While examining the artwork in this collection, consider the following questions:

  • Who is the artist?

  • Who is the intended audience?

  • What is the purpose or message of the artwork?

  • What is the historical context surrounding the piece?


Essential Questions

  • How have Euro-American and American Indian artists portrayed indigenous people through various forms of artwork?

  • What can we learn about our past and ourselves from artworks that portray indigenous peoples?

  • What makes something American Indian art; is it the background of the artist, the style, technique or materials used, the subject of the artwork?

Portraits

One of the core tenets of frontier mythology in America was the idea of the vanishing Indian. In the early nineteenth century, many Euro-Americans subscribed to the belief that American Indians were disappearing. As settlers pushed further west of the Mississippi River into already inhabited lands, they came into conflict with American Indians. With the efforts to forcibly remove American Indians from desirable lands and on to reservations, and to force assimilation through Indian boarding schools, it seemed to many Americans as if American Indians and their ways of life were “vanishing” both physically and culturally. The concerns over the vanishing Indians influenced artists of the nineteenth century who sought to preserve American Indian ways of life before they disappeared forever.

George Catlin was a self-taught and prolific artist who embarked on multiple trips to the Western United States to create a visual record of American Indians ‘'to rescue from oblivion their primitive looks and customs,’‘ which were being ’‘blasted and destroyed by the contemporary vices and dissipations introduced by the immoral part of civilized society.’‘ Before the era of photography, the painting and sketches of artists were the only means by which many Euro-Americans had ever seen an American Indian.

Images of American Indians were popular with the American public, so for some artists there was a strong commercial motivation to create these portraits. While artists like Karl Bodmer tried to create accurate representations of American Indians, other artists conceived their works to capitalize the public’s imagination, mixing and matching elements from different tribes to achieve a desired aesthetic. The commercial market reflected and reinforced a particular view of American Indians, and contributed to the image of Plains Indians as representative of all American Indians.

Questions to Consider

  • Select one of the portraits from this section. What do you think the artist wanted to communicate about the subject? Was the subject trying to communicate something about his or herself? What might be important to know about the artist when using this portrait as a source? How does the meaning and purpose of the portrait change when viewed by a twenty-first century audience?

  • Select one of the studio portrait photographs and a non-studio photograph from this collection. How do the background and perspective change the information in, or context of, the photograph? Do you think one type of photograph is a more accurate primary source, why or why not?

  • In many of these portraits, the sitter is identified. Why might that be important?

  • How might these images look different if the creator was American Indian rather than Euro-American?

Little Crow

Frank Blackwell Mayer. 1851.

Image of Little Crow

Portrait of Little Crow (Taoyateduta), hereditary chief of Kaposia band of Dakota Indians, seated holding long pipe with beadwork. He wears a split horn headdress with weasel tails, robe, and moccasins. Flag in background (20-plus stripes, eagle).

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Little Crow
Short Title Little Crow, 1851
Creator Frank Blackwell Mayer
Publication Date 1851
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Mayer, Drawing No. 7
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Chin-cha-pee (the Fire Bug that Creeps)

George Catlin. Circa 1852.

Image of Chin-cha-pee (the Fire Bug that Creeps)

Portrait of an Assiniboine woman, wife of Wi jun-jon. She is wearing an animal hide dress and is holding a tool said to be used for digging wild turnips. Her hair is braided and she is wearing beaded necklaces, earrings and face paint

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Chin-cha-pee (the Fire Bug that Creeps)
Short Title Chin-cha-pee (the Fire Bug that Creeps), 1852
Creator George Catlin
Publication Date Circa 1852
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Catlin 1, Drawing No. 36
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Chief Larny, Crow

E. A. Burbank. 1891.

Image of Chief Larny, Crow

Portrait of Chief Larny (or Larney) with red face paint, red shirt and single feather tied in his hair. He wears an earring and a pearl choker necklace with a round pendant. At lower left: “Fort Xavier.” Framed oil on canvas.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Chief Larny, Crow
Short Title Chief Larny, Crow, 1891
Creator E. A. Burbank
Publication Date 1891
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Burbank No. 53

Pahl-Lee, Moqui

E. A. Burbank. 1898.

Image of Pahl-Lee, Moqui

Portrait of Pahl-Lee, a Hopi Indian woman. Oil painting, right profile from the waist up. Pictured wrapped in a brown, red and white cloth, with hair forming a whorl, and adorned with earring, necklace and bracelets.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Pahl-Lee, Moqui
Short Title Pahl-Lee, Moqui, 1898
Creator E. A. Burbank
Publication Date 1898
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Burbank No. 60

Pa-da-ne A-pa-pe (Struck by the Ree), Head Chief, Yankton Dakota

Addis Gallery. Circa 1867.

Image of Pa-da-ne A-pa-pe (Struck by the Ree), Head Chief, Yankton Dakota

Portrait photograph of Pa-da-ne A-pa-pe (Struck by the Ree). Title, provenance and biographical information written on the verso of photograph in pencil and ink.

Image of Pa-da-ne A-pa-pe (Struck by the Ree), Head Chief, Yankton Dakota

Verso of portrait photograph of Pa-da-ne A-pa-pe (Struck by the Ree).

Metadata Details
Item Type Photograph
Title Pa-da-ne A-pa-pe (Struck by the Ree), Head Chief, Yankton Dakota
Short Title Pa-da-ne A-pa-pe (Struck by the Ree), Head Chief, Yankton Dakota
Creator Addis Gallery
Publication Date Circa 1867
Call Number Ayer Photographs box 105 AP 2699

Cheyenne Chief Two Moons who led the Sioux at Custer Massacre

L. A. Huffman. June 25, 1876.

Image of Cheyenne Chief Two Moons who led the Sioux at Custer Massacre

Hand-colored photograph.

Metadata Details
Item Type Photograph
Title Cheyenne Chief Two Moons who led the Sioux at Custer Massacre
Short Title Cheyenne Chief Two Moons who led the Sioux at Custer Massacre, 1876
Creator L. A. Huffman
Publication Date June 25, 1876
Call Number VAULT oversize Graff 2000
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Po-go-nay-ke-shick (Hole in the Day), Chief, Chippewa

Whitney's Gallery (Saint Paul, Minn.). No Date.

Image of Po-go-nay-ke-shick (Hole in the Day), Chief, Chippewa

Head to toe portrait of an Indian chief on photographic card stock. Two cent stamp on back.

Metadata Details
Item Type Photograph
Title Po-go-nay-ke-shick (Hole in the Day), Chief, Chippewa
Short Title Po-go-nay-ke-shick (Hole in the Day), Chief, Chippewa
Creator Whitney's Gallery (Saint Paul, Minn.)
Publication Date No Date
Call Number Ayer Photographs box 76 AP 3056

Ne-bah-quah-om (Big Dog), Chief, Chippewa

Whitney's Gallery (Saint Paul, Minn.). No Date.

Image of Ne-bah-quah-om (Big Dog), Chief, Chippewa

Card stock photograph on an Indian chief. Printed on mount, “A Chippewa Chief, who offered himself and his band of Warriors to Government, to fight the Sioux in their raid in Minnesota in 1862.” There is also a two cent stamp on the back.

Metadata Details
Item Type Photograph
Title Ne-bah-quah-om (Big Dog), Chief, Chippewa
Short Title Ne-bah-quah-om (Big Dog), Chief, Chippewa
Creator Whitney's Gallery (Saint Paul, Minn.)
Publication Date No Date
Call Number Ayer Photographs box 76 AP 3054

Can-Ku Was-Te Win (Good-Road Woman), Dakota

Whitney's Gallery (Saint Paul, Minn.). No Date.

Image of Can-Ku Was-Te Win (Good-Road Woman), Dakota

Can-Ku Was-Te Win (Good-Road Woman).

Metadata Details
Item Type Photograph
Title Can-Ku Was-Te Win (Good-Road Woman), Dakota
Short Title Can-Ku Was-Te Win (Good-Road Woman), Dakota
Creator Whitney's Gallery (Saint Paul, Minn.)
Publication Date No Date
Call Number Ayer Photographs box 76 AP 3059

I-cha-san-tan-ka (Big Razor), Yanktonai Dakota

No Date.

Image of I-cha-san-tan-ka (Big Razor), Yanktonai Dakota

Portrait photograph of Big Razor sitting in profile.

Metadata Details
Item Type Photograph
Title I-cha-san-tan-ka (Big Razor), Yanktonai Dakota
Short Title I-cha-san-tan-ka (Big Razor), Yanktonai Dakota
Publication Date No Date
Call Number Ayer Photographs box 55 AP 607

Return to Top

Museums and Collecting

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was a growing interest in collecting American Indian heritage. Scientists, scholars, and collectors gathered stories, conducted linguistic research, and amassed collections of material items such as baskets, pottery, beadwork, and hide paintings.

American Indian material culture was often displayed in natural science and anthropology museums, rather than art museums. Curators labeled American Indian art, as well as the art of other indigenous peoples from around the globe, as primitive art. The labeling of objects made by American Indians as primitive, and its placement in anthropology museums instead of next to Amerian and European art in art museums, reinforced stereotypes and beliefs about Euro-American superiority.

Museums such as the Field Museum in Chicago and the Smithsonian’s American Bureau of Ethnology participated in collecting and exhibiting American Indian art. Such efforts undertaken by collectors and scholars were intended to preserve American Indians’ past. Ideas about tradition and authenticity guided the collecting strategies of individuals and institutions. Much of the collecting and research frenzy was fueled by a salvage mentality, linked to the myth of the vanishing Indian. Curators and collectors believed that it was critical to save American Indian cultural artifacts for scientific study.

American Indian cultures and traditions have continually changed over time in response to new opportunities and challenges. The collected objects and visual art pieces that formed the basis of these collections are representative of a certain period of American Indian history, a period characterized by an extreme level of conflict and change. However, these objects were typically treated by curators and collectors as defining examples of what is traditional and authentic in American Indian art.

The focus on certain types of objects and styles as authentic excluded other types of American Indian art. While American Indian artists and artistic traditions continued to adapt to a radically different world and explore new forms of artistic expression, the institutional determination of authenticity limited what was collected and exhibited to the public. For anthropologists with a focus on ethnology, American Indian cultures were frozen in time.

Questions to Consider

  • What does the context of displaying American Indian art and artifacts in anthropology and natural science museums indicate about the way Euro-Americans understood and valued these cultures and items?

  • How did the preferences of past collectors influence the material and documentary record, and why does that matter to historians in the twenty-first century?

  • Look online or in a book for three examples of twenty-first century artwork by American Indian artists. How has American Indian art continued to change, and how is it linked to traditional art forms?

Chippewa customs. Woman's pipe

Fraces Densmore. From Chippewa Customs, by Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology. 1929.

Image of Chippewa customs. Woman's pipe

Chippewa items from the American Bureau of Ethnology

Metadata Details
Item Type Photograph
Title Chippewa customs. Woman's pipe
Publication Title Chippewa Customs
Creator Fraces Densmore
Publication Creator Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology
Publication Date 1929
Call Number Ayer 301 .A5 v. 86
Location Special Collections

Figurines

Ben Wittick. Circa 1880.

Image of Figurines

“Figurines, in Wood, representing Divine Messengers, Rattles, Flute, Snake Whip & …”–handwritten below photograph. Typed label obscures end of handwritten annotation. “51-c”–on typed label.

Metadata Details
Item Type Photograph
Title Figurines
Short Title Figurines, 1880
Creator Ben Wittick
Publication Date Circa 1880
Call Number Ayer Photographs box 17 Hopi III AP 894
Location Special Collections

Basketry and Pottery

Ben Wittick. Circa 1880.

Image of Basketry and Pottery

Photograph of pottery and baskets found in an archeological site in Arizona? “Primitive ware produced after basket models. Early methods of moulding, and laminated coil.”–handwritten below photograph. “No. 2”–on card in photograph. “46-d”–typed label.

Metadata Details
Item Type Photograph
Title Basketry and Pottery
Short Title Basketry and Pottery, 1880
Creator Ben Wittick
Publication Date Circa 1880
Call Number Ayer Photographs box 67 Miscellaneous, Utensil AP 1816
Location Special Collections

Transition Ware

Ben Wittick. Circa 1880.

Image of Transition Ware

Photograph of pottery found in an archeological site in Arizona? “A class, exhumed from ruins, but produced between the ancient & modern periods.”–handwritten below photograph. “No. 16”–on card in photograph. “46-e”–on typed label.

Metadata Details
Item Type Photograph
Title Transition Ware
Short Title Transition Ware, 1880
Creator Ben Wittick
Publication Date Circa 1880
Call Number Ayer Photographs box 67 Miscellaneous, Utensil AP 1818
Location Special Collection 4th floor

Return to Top

Ledger Art

American Indians created and beautified objects for use in everyday life, and tribes across the Western United States developed their own decorative styles and motifs based on the materials in their environment and in response to external events. American Indians of the Great Plains developed a unique form of narrative art, or artwork that tells a story. Initially, Great Plains tribes recorded stories and histories through visual representation on animal hides. In the second half of the nineteenth century, as availability of animal hides decreased, and American Indians were increasingly confined to reservations, a new genre of artwork developed: ledger art. Ledger books are accounting books, and Plains Indians began recording their stories in these ledger books. Exchanging hides for paper resulted in changes to the art form as the paper of ledger books provided a smaller surface than an animal hide, and the artist could no longer tell the entire story on a single surface. The materials used to create images on paper were different from the tools used to illustrate animal hides; artists used supplies like pencils and crayons to create their ledger book artworks.

Ledger art was largely created by male artists who illustrated events such as battle scenes and heroic exploits, but as more American Indians were confined to reservations, scenes from everyday life before the reservation entered into the genre. Some of the best-known ledger art was created by American Indian prisoners held at Fort Marion in Florida. Because of the focus on story-telling, there is often no background in ledger art unless it provides important information for the story. Some pieces of ledger art have notations and alterations that were not made by the original artist, so care must be taken when interpreting ledger art.

Questions to Consider

  • How does ledger art use visual cues to tell a story? Which elements of the drawings appear realistic, and which elements appear symbolic?

  • Compare the illustration of buffalo hide artwork with a piece of ledger art. What similarities and differences do you notice? How do the materials impact the style?

  • What are the challenges of using these artworks as primary sources? What kind of information might these sources offer that would be unavailable otherwise?

Indian Painted Buffalo Skin

C.H.S.. Circa 1843.

Image of Indian Painted Buffalo Skin

Sketch of buffalo skin featuring approximately twenty men on horses with shields and spears, advancing toward men on foot or lying on ground. Caption: “Representing an attack of the Pawnees upon the [Housa or Kiowa] Nation.”

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Indian Painted Buffalo Skin
Short Title Indian Painted Buffalo Skin, 1843
Creator C.H.S.
Publication Date Circa 1843
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art C.H.S., Drawing No. 22

“Black Horse Ledger”

Black Horse (Cheyenne). Circa 1877.

Image of Black Horse Ledger

Page 2-3. Three men on horseback. At the rear, a man in black holds a rifle and throws a lance, which flies through a circle in mid-air. Many hoof prints at bottom of page. Drawn in different combinations of crayon pencil, crayon, and graphite pencil.

Image of Black Horse Ledger

Page 32. Pawnees on foot and on horseback holding weapons, in pursuit of Cheyennes. Drawn in different combinations of crayon pencil, crayon, and graphite pencil.

Image of Black Horse Ledger

Pages 104-105. Many hoof- and footprints among tipis (page 104). Cheyenne, wearing U.S. military coat, attacks Snake men and woman (labelled “squaw”) with bow and arrow. Two men fight hand-to-hand as rifle lays on ground.

Image of Black Horse Ledger

Page 183. Woman wears war bonnet and browband. To the side, another man wears war bonnet, horned headband, yellow browband and holds sword decorated with skins, feathers. Drawn in combinations of crayon pencil, crayon, and graphite pencil.

Image of Black Horse Ledger

Page 190. At left, two men dancing with face paint, feathers, beads, leg bands. One holds tomahawk. At right, “squaw” and man share blanket. Farther right, solitary figure wrapped in blanket is “too late.”

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Black Horse Ledger
Short Title Black Horse Ledger, 1877
Creator Black Horse (Cheyenne)
Publication Date Circa 1877
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer MS 3227
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Return to Top

Daily Life

The artworks in this section are illustrations by Euro-American artists and photographers of everyday life among different groups of American Indians, a popular theme explored by non-indigenous artists. Karl Bodmer was a Swiss artist known for his detailed depictions of landscapes and indigenous peoples in the nineteenth century American West. In the 1830s, Bodmer accompanied the Prussian Prince Alexander Maximillian on his travels thought the American West as an illustrator for Maximillian’s atlas of his travels, Travels in the Interior of North America 1832-1834. Bodmer created sketches and watercolors that were engraved and printed upon his return to Europe. In the winter of 1833-34, Bodmer and Maximillian spent several months with the Mandan in present day North Dakota. Not five years later, the Mandan were decimated by small pox. Bodmer’s illustrations from travels in the Upper Mississippi provide a glimpse into American Indian life before widespread Euro-American settlement of the West.

Seth Eastman, a soldier in the United States Army created hundreds of illustrations of American Indian life in the mid-nineteenth century. Unlike some artists, who hurriedly captured images before returning to their studios in the East, Eastman spent considerable time living in the West where he illustrated scenes from everyday life from several tribes of the Great Plains region. Many of these works were ultimately published in a government-funded six-volume work, Information Regarding the History, Conditions, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States. The range of Eastman’s images offers insights into daily life, and hints at the cultural diversity of American Indians.

In addition to artists like Seth Eastman and Karl Bodmer, photographers also endeavored to record American Indian life. Photographs with two side-by-side duplicate images are stereographs. When the images are viewed through a stereoscope, the images appear three dimensional. Stereographs added an element of realism to the photographs, and were accessible to people at all levels of society. American Indians and images of the West and faraway lands were popular choices for stereographs.

Questions to Consider

  • What kinds of scenes and images are represented by these artists? Who is the intended audience for these artworks? How might the intended audience have influenced the selection and creation of images?

  • How did images like these inform Euro-American perceptions of American Indians?

  • Look at Bodmer’s funeral images. What can these documents illustrate about the process of creating a final printed product? What challenges might Bodmer and other artists have faced in recording these images?

  • What are the challenges of using these artworks as primary sources? What kind of information might these sources offer that would be unavailable otherwise?

The Interior of the Hut of a Mandan Chief

Karl Bodmer. From Travels in the interior of North America, by Maximilian, Prince of Wied. 1843.

Image of The Interior of the Hut of a Mandan Chief

Tableau 19 in atlas. View of the interior of a Mandan lodge. Shields, lances and medicine symbols of the chief hang from the pillars. Various utensils and containers are scattered around the floor. There is the family bed against the back wall.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title The Interior of the Hut of a Mandan Chief
Publication Title Travels in the interior of North America
Short Title Interior of the Hut of a Mandan Chief, 1843
Creator Karl Bodmer
Publication Creator Maximilian, Prince of Wied
Publication Date 1843
Call Number VAULT oversize Graff 4649
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Studies for the Funeral Scaffold of a Sioux Chief, Drawing No. 4

Karl Bodmer. Circa 1833.

Image of Studies for the Funeral Scaffold of a Sioux Chief, Drawing No. 4

A group of men and a woman with two small children congregate near a funeral scaffold (a platform on stilts). The men hold a staff, a long pipe, a rifle, and wear animal skin robes. Two domesticated dogs stand nearby.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Studies for the Funeral Scaffold of a Sioux Chief, Drawing No. 4
Short Title Studies Funeral Scaffold No. 4, 1833
Creator Karl Bodmer
Publication Date Circa 1833
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Bodmer, Drawing No. 4
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Studies for the Funeral Scaffold of a Sioux Chief, Drawing No. 5

Karl Bodmer. Circa 1833.

Image of Studies for the Funeral Scaffold of a Sioux Chief, Drawing No. 5

Composite sketches used for Bodmer Drawing No. 4. Two variants of prostrate man, propped up on elbows and covered with robe or blanket. Three variants of back view of standing man, with robe, leggings, and holding a staff.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Studies for the Funeral Scaffold of a Sioux Chief, Drawing No. 5
Short Title Studies Funeral Scaffold No. 5, 1833
Creator Karl Bodmer
Publication Date Circa 1833
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Bodmer, Drawing No. 5
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Funeral Scaffold

Karl Bodmer. From Travels in the Interior of North America, by Maximilian, Prince of Wied. 1843.

Image of Funeral Scaffold

Depiction of a Sioux funeral ceremony next to the funeral scaffold of a Sioux Chief. Men, women and children are gathered in a circle near the scaffold, in front of their dwellings.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Funeral Scaffold
Publication Title Travels in the Interior of North America
Short Title Funeral Scaffold, 1843
Creator Karl Bodmer
Publication Creator Maximilian, Prince of Wied
Publication Date 1843
Call Number VAULT oversize Graff 4649, Tableau 11
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Indian Utensils and Arms

Karl Bodmer. From Travels in the Interior of North America, by Maximilian, Prinz von Wied. 1843.

Image of Indian Utensils and Arms

Tableau 48 in atlas. Variety of objects collected by Prince Maximillian, from the Plains Indian tribal communities. Objects include Sioux and Iroquois moccasins, quill-decorated otter skin, bows, and an eagle-feather war bonnet.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Indian Utensils and Arms
Publication Title Travels in the Interior of North America
Short Title Indian Utensils and Arms, 1843
Creator Karl Bodmer
Publication Creator Maximilian, Prinz von Wied
Publication Date 1843
Language English, French, German
Call Number VAULT oversize Graff 4649
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Gathering Wild Rice

Seth Eastman. From The American Aboriginal Portfolio, by Mary H. Eastman. Circa 1853.

Image of Gathering Wild Rice

Plate opposite page 50. Three Native American women (Chippewa?) in a birch bark canoe gather seeds from wild rice. They use paddles to beat out the seeds.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Gathering Wild Rice
Publication Title The American Aboriginal Portfolio
Short Title Gathering Wild Rice, 1853
Creator Seth Eastman
Publication Creator Mary H. Eastman
Publication Date Circa 1853
Call Number Ayer 250.45 E2 1853a
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Interior of an Estufa, New Mexico

Seth Eastman. 1853.

Image of Interior of an Estufa, New Mexico

Interior of Pueblo dwelling with stone floor, support columns and wooden beams in ceiling. Several people sitting. Also shows drum, large vase, fire pit and ladder. Scene done in sepia tones.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Interior of an Estufa, New Mexico
Short Title Interior of an Estufa, New Mexico, 1853
Creator Seth Eastman
Publication Date 1853
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Eastman
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Medicine Dance of the Winnebagoes

Seth Eastman. From The American Aboriginal Portfolio, by Mary H. Eastman. Circa 1853.

Image of Medicine Dance of the Winnebagoes
Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Medicine Dance of the Winnebagoes
Publication Title The American Aboriginal Portfolio
Short Title Medicine Dance of the Winnebagoes, 1853
Creator Seth Eastman
Publication Creator Mary H. Eastman
Publication Date Circa 1853
Call Number Ayer 250.45 E2 1853a
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Indian Girl Sewing in Front of Tepee

Alexander Gardner. 1868.

Image of Indian Girl Sewing in Front of Tepee
Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Indian Girl Sewing in Front of Tepee
Short Title Indian Girl Sewing in Front of Tepee, 1868
Creator Alexander Gardner
Publication Date 1868
Call Number oversize Ayer Art Augur vol. 10 AP 2911

Return to Top

American Indian Artists in the Southwest

What makes a piece of art traditional? Is it the designs and motifs, the method of creation, the materials used? While rooted in various traditions, American Indian artists have adapted artistic traditions, explored new media and techniques, and influenced the art world.

Frederick Gokliz was a Chiricahua Apache artist from the San Carlos Indian Reservation in Arizona. Gokliz, along with other Chiricahua Apache, was moved to Fort Marion in Florida as a prisoner of war, and he ended up in Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Historians believe these drawings were created in the 1890s.

Awa Tsireh, who also went by the name Alfono Roybal, was a Southwestern artist with a national reputation for his richly-colored watercolor paintings depicting Pueblo life and culture. Tsireh’s paintings reflect not only his own pueblo, San Ildefonso Pueblo, but also those of nearby tribes such as the Hopi and Navajo. Tsireh’s work features flat figures with no background, and they were primarily created for non-indigenous audiences. The colorful and detailed paintings also served as a form of activism. In the 1920s, the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs attempted to suppress American Indian dances, especially those of the Pueblo. The captivating images painted by Tsireh not only captured the ceremonies and dances in exquisite detail, but also created an interest in Pueblo culture among a broader audience. Tsireh’s watercolors were largely created for a Euro-American audience, including patrons and collectors, and the watercolors were exhibited across the United States. In the 1920s, the Newberry in Chicago hosted an exhibition of Tsireh’s work.

Questions to Consider

  • What subjects and scenes are represented in these pieces of art?

  • How does Gokliz make use of colors and patterns in these works?

  • How does Gokliz illustrate movement and relationships through his drawings?

  • How do you think the intended audience influenced each man’s work?

  • Compare Gokliz’s Two Men in Costume and one of Tsireh’s watercolors. What similarities or differences in colors, style, and materials do you notice?

  • What other art traditions do Tsireh’s paintings remind you of?

Two Men in Costume

Frederick Gokliz. Circa 1894.

Image of Two Men in Costume

Two men with fringed skirts, red armbands, and black body paint hold small swords. They wear red and yellow headpieces shaped like a sideways “E.”

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Two Men in Costume
Short Title Two Men in Costume, 1894
Creator Frederick Gokliz
Publication Date Circa 1894
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Gokliz

Three Women

Frederick Gokliz. Circa 1894.

Image of Three Women

Three women in green shirts, necklaces, and fringed skirts stand with drums or baskets.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Three Women
Short Title Three Women, 1894
Creator Frederick Gokliz
Publication Date Circa 1894
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Gokliz, Drawing No. 8
Location VAULT oversize Ayer Art Gokliz

Bison Hunt

Frederick Gokliz. Circa 1894.

Image of Bison Hunt

Large black bison with tongue wagging steps in puddle of blood. Man with yellow moccasins and red ribbon around neck stabs bison with lance.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Bison Hunt
Short Title Bison Hunt, 1894
Creator Frederick Gokliz
Publication Date Circa 1894
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Gokliz, Drawing No. 12
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Return to Top

Selected Sources

Bol, Marsha. “The Early Years of Native American Art History: The Politics of Scholarship and Collecting.” Museum Anthropology 17 (1986–87).

“Keeping History: Plains Indians Ledger Drawings.” Smithsonian, National Museum of American History. 2009. http://americanhistory.si.edu/documentsgallery/exhibitions/ledger_drawing_1.html

Wood, W.R., Karl Bodmer, Joseph C. Porter, and David C. Hunt. “Karl Bodmer’s Studio Art: The Newberry Library Bodmer Collection.” Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002.

Return to Top

This collection was generously funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

This collection was last updated