As we prepare for Thanksgiving, MIR would like to highlight an influential artist whose depictions of the Old West and portraits of Native Americans remind us of the origins of the Harvest Feast Holiday. While Thanksgiving is a time for feasts and giving thanks, MIR gives thanks to this prolific artist as he reminds us of the beauty of American Indian culture.
George Catlin was born in Pennsylvania in 1796 to a mother who helped foster his fascination for the American Indians. She recounted stories of the Western Frontier and of her time as a captive of an Indian tribe.
Catlin was inspired by what he called a ‘vanishing race’ and began collecting artifacts and studying the cultures of many tribes throughout North America. He became, by most standards, a historian of Native Americans.
He first studied art at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts and painted members of the Seneca tribe living on a nearby Indian Reservation. Catlin was mostly a portrait painter, depicting the ‘true Americans’ in full garb and face paint to show off their culture and beauty. The portraits he produced included men, women and children from many different tribes including Pawnee, Mandan, Hidatsa, Sioux, Ponca, Arikara, Plains Ojibwa, Plains Cree, Santee, Seminole, Iroquois and countless others.
In 1830, Catlin traveled to St. Louis and met William Clark. He accompanied him to Upper Mississippi, Leavenworth and Ft. Laramie, all the while recording what he saw with both pen and paint. His writings became as famous as his paintings, recounting colorful tales of Indian life and entertaining stories of Catlin’s interactions with the tribesmen and women. His writings, so detailed and thoughtful, would often help him to finish his paintings, re-doing them at a later date to better evoke the realism that his pen took note of.
His writings, paintings, and numerous artifacts ended up, in 1838, in Catlin’s Indian Gallery on display. Catlin wanted to relay all he had learned from his travels out West, and so the artist and writer began giving lectures and recounting his tales of the lives of the American Indians. He also wrote of his experiences in a published book from 1848, titled Illustrations of the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians.
The images George Catlin left behind are colorfully detailed accounts of the American West in the mid 19th century. His passion for the American Indians, their culture, and their impact on North America has spurred countless paintings, writings, and historical documentation from this artist and historian.
The contents from the Indian Gallery now reside in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
So as we all prepare our turkeys on the 25th of November, we should also think back to the influential people who are responsible for Thanksgiving. While many of us think of pilgrims and Indians, what better way to remember than to see the art of George Catlin.
Researched and written Taylor Maatman.
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
Principal Appraiser: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc., is located just steps from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Center; please do give us a ring to set up an appointment for a verbal evaluation of your most prized works of art.