A Native Artist - Misha Dubuc
Who is George Catlin?
George Catlin was born on July 26, 1796, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. During a time when the United States was pushing itself westward, Catlin became very interested with the open frontier. He was also very intrigued with Native American culture, as he would sometimes go out and search for artifacts. He even befriended a Native American boy; this may have helped Catlin form a deeper appreciation towards the people themselves, as opposed to the hostile nature of his society. He briefly studied law, but his true passions burst forth when he started his painting career. One specific event that left a deep impression on him was a delegation of Native Americans marching through Pennsylvania; he was amazed by just how sophisticated and “noble” they seemed. He traveled extensively between the Great Lakes and Florida to capture portraits of this “dying race”, and even went to Europe to criticize American imperialism. However, he actually did very little to actively protect the Native Americans from expansionism, and eventually moved to England because of it. Despite his inabilities, his artwork is still preserved today in order to showcase the cultural significance of the Native Americans. Catlin died on December 23, 1872.
Contribution to the Art World
Buffalo Bull's Back Fat, Head Chief, Blood Tribe
Notice the chief's stern visage that stares directly at you. His facial expression is a key attribute in the "noble savage" depiction of Native Americans. At the same time, his deerskin tunic, feathers, and porcupine quills all flow downwards. He is a stern leader, but he is quite civil and laidback. Finally, he is firmly holding onto a pipe; not only is it a part of his culture, but it also shows a sensitive side to his people. If this chief is a representative of his own people, then his people seem to be very well-mannered, judging from the portrait.
Sioux Mother and Baby, c. 1830
The mother has a subtle smile, and stares down at the child. Her right hand even covers the child's heart. She cares about the well-being of her child, and one could infer that she has the same sentiment with others. The child stares back at its mother, as it is defenseless and depends. This plays with one's sympathy; why would anyone want to harm such an innocent baby? As a final detail, the child is being held under a cradle with certain ornaments. Most American settlers would probably be familiar with a mobile, so they can see that they culturally share something in common with the Sioux.
Sioux War Council
As the tribesmen are sitting in a circle, a chief can be clearly distinguished in the near-middle. Anglo-Saxon Americans can see the organized social structure that the Sioux have. The tribesmen are also listening very attentively, as some are even kneeling and leaning towards the chief. They do not just attack haphazardly; they intellectually think through their plans, and then act accordingly. Finally, off the horizon, a bright, yellow sun is seen rising. This could be symbolic of the Sioux being enlightened on their next course of action - a course that seems to be excellent.