The Sash

During last week’s blog post, I shared an exciting discovery revealed during a recent Tea & Talk program, which enlightened me about the Métis people. After some further research, I learned about another connection our collection has to this tribe.

Frederic Remington, Buffalo Runners - Big Horn Basin, 1909, Oil on canvas, 30 1/8 x 51 1/8 inches

Frederic Remington, Buffalo Runners – Big Horn Basin, 1909, Oil on canvas, 30 1/8 x 51 1/8 inches

When you view Remington’s Buffalo Runners, you’ll notice that the figures, the Métis, are wearing a sash around their waists, the trimmings of which blow in the wind from the hurried gallop of the horses. This sash is a typical Métis article of clothing. In fact, the Métis still own and use these sashes today for ceremonial purposes. Historically, the sash had many functional uses. The fringed ends could serve as emergency sewing kits when the men were out on a buffalo hunt, like in Remington’s painting. The sash could also perform as a key holder, first aid kit, washcloth, towel, and as an emergency bridle and saddle blanket.

Originally known as L’Assomption Sash, named after a town in Quebec where it was produced, the garment eventually became known as “the Métis sash.”

But the Métis were not the only ones to don the sash. From his earliest days in Montana, Charles Russell began wearing L’Assomption Sash. Apparently, he felt the belt-like item made him look slimmer. Charles once wrote:

“I have all ways worn one and like them better than a belt. I believe they keep me from having a big belly—all breeds usto ware them Mex french lots of people in Quebeck ware them I saw men in france waring them—all that I saw [were] all silk Italions ware.”

Charles M. Russell, Utica (A Quiet day in Utica), 1907, Oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches

Charles M. Russell, Utica (A Quiet day in Utica), 1907, Oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches

Russell proudly displayed the sash in many photographic portraits as well as paintings. In Russell’s 1907 canvas Utica, the artist paints himself into the composition. He can be easily identified in the background by the red Métis sash around his waist.Sid Richardson Museum

Tea & Talk Reflections

As mentioned previously, Tea & Talk is a regularly scheduled program every second Wednesday of the month at 2pm (September-May). We take a look at two selected works of art, spending about 15-20min with each while sharing our thoughts and observations. The group is intimate in size, which allows for more open dialogue. During our most recent Tea & Talk, participants spent time with Catlin’s Buffalo Chase – Bull Protecting the Calves and Remington’s Buffalo Runners – Big Horn Basin.IMG_4995IMG_4996

Frederic Remington, Buffalo Runners - Big Horn Basin, 1909, Oil on canvas, 30 1/8 x 51 1/8 inches

Frederic Remington, Buffalo Runners – Big Horn Basin, 1909, Oil on canvas, 30 1/8 x 51 1/8 inches

As an art historian and museum educator, I always find Tea & Talk to be a great resource in learning more about the artworks and learning to see our collection in new ways, both of which are sparked by comments and insights shared through our conversations. Last week’s program is a great example. While sitting in front of Remington’s Buffalo Runners – Big Horn Basin, it’s easy to get caught up in the artist’s sun-struck hues, the thick, loose application of paint, and the implied sense of movement in this dynamic scene. In fact, much of our conversation focused on these various aspects. Then someone pointed out the dark shadows on the faces of some of the men.

Are these moustaches?

Yes, the group agreed.

But wait, American Indian men are not known for having facial hair?

That’s when one of the participants referenced the Métis people.

Métis is the French term for “mixed-blood.” It’s similar to the Spanish term mestizo. The Métis tribe was a result of the encroachment of European settlement and exploration, as relationships developed between fur traders and Native American women, mostly Cree and Ojibwe. The first Métis communities appeared in the Great Lakes region, Ontario, North Dakota, and Montana near the Judith Basin. Many Métis people would come together for annual buffalo hunts, both for subsistence and for buffalo robes to sell.  Today, the Métis are found in many of these same areas and extending into many of the Canadian provinces, where the government has begun to recognize the Métis as a distinct people.

In the U.S., the word Métis is little known outside the historically Métis communities in the north. But now, thanks to Tea & Talk, the participants and I are equipped with this little nugget of knowledge.

George Catlin Books

In addition to the 17 paintings on loan from the National Gallery of Art, our current exhibition – Take Two: George Catlin Revisits the West – includes a selection of rare books on loan from a private collection. Catlin was both an artist and an author, writing and recording many of his observations and experiences from his travels West.Book displayletters and notes

One of the most important works on American Indians published in the 19th century was Catlin’s Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians…, which describes his travels and encounters with many tribes. Our exhibition features a rare Deluxe edition. The book is still in publication to this day. Likewise, Catlin’s Illustrations of the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians… was one of the most widely circulated works on American Indians in the 19th century. As a self-publisher, Catlin only sold enough books to break even. Unfortunately, he was unable to afford promoting his Indian Gallery and publish subsequent editions, so Catlin sold his copyright to London publisher Henry Bohn. The two volume set we currently have on display is one of the twelve copies Bohn had specially hand colored. Scholars argue that French artist Rosa Bonheur or John Cullum colored these plates by hand.


Catlin also produced the North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. Designed to appeal to a wealthier, more discriminating book buyer, the illustrations of this portfolio were more complicated, tinted lithographs rather than the simple line engravings of his previous books. Catlin originally intended to publish a series of portfolios, each themed: religious rites, dances, costume, etc. Again, the artist found book publishing to be a costly endeavor. He published two issues of the first portfolio. Copyright passed from his previous publisher Bohn to the London firm of Chatto & Windus, which produced the 31 plate issue we currently have on display. Catlin never finished the rest of the display changeBook change

As mentioned previously, selections from these books will rotate throughout the exhibition. Last week we flipped through the pages, resulting in a new presentation of images. We hope the ever-changing book display will help illustrate the connection between Catlin’s books and his Indian Gallery and how that relationship strengthened Catlin’s life-long enterprise to preserve the Indian cultures of the American West.

Catlin in France

As mentioned previously, George Catlin painted 500 Native American portraits and scenes of everyday life of 48 Indian tribes—buffalo hunts, dances, games, amusements, rituals, and religious ceremonies—that he witnessed on summer excursions in 1832, 1834, 1835, and 1836. Collectively, these paintings exhibited as what Catlin referred to as his Indian Gallery. Our current exhibition, Take Two: George Catlin Revisits the West, features 17 paintings from the artist’s Second Indian Gallery.

George Catlin | Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London | 1861 - 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

George Catlin | Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London | 1861 – 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

After Catlin toured his collection around the U.S., he journeyed to Europe and first landed in England. Looking for a new audience, he arrived in Paris in 1845. As with his exhibition in London, where he enjoyed an audience with Queen Victoria, Catlin cultivated a close relationship with the king of France, Louis-Philippe during his stay in Paris. The French king even reserved a room in the Louvre for the display of Catlin’s Indian Gallery and scheduled a private viewing for the royal family and guests.

Later, the collection of paintings, artifacts, and Indian representatives (twelve Iowa Indians who had also joined Catlin in England), exhibited at the Salle Valentino in Paris. The reception of the French press was enthusiastic. Critics viewed the work as a genuinely American product. Many Romantic artists took note, including the poet and writer Charles Baudelaire, novelist George Sand, and painter Eugène Delacroix. Struck by his raw colors, Baudelaire took Catlin seriously as an artist and wrote two salon reviews about the American. The French poet praised the lightness of Catlin’s skies and believed the raw color and rude form of Catlin’s art bore deep and mysterious meaning. Sand would return to the exhibition more than once to talk with the Iowas. She was eager to understand their customs, their religious beliefs, and their views on French society. Delacroix made several known studies of the Indians, one of which was included in the recent exhibition Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Catlin stayed in France until 1848 when a revolution broke out resulting in the overthrow of King Louis Philippe.

Tall Tales

The Sid Richardson Art Museum has initiated a new adult public program this year – Tall Tales. Tall Tales is an opportunity to engage in thoughtful conversation while making connections between art and literature. For our first Tall Tales program, we’ll be discussing Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria. Through this novel, Deloria sought to record and preserve traditional Sioux ways of life in the Dakotas prior to pioneer settlement in the Western plains. What’s fascinating about this book is that the protagonist is a woman, giving us a rare glimpse into daily camp life from the female perspective, which is much less well known than that of the warrior or medicine man. In addition, the novel was written by a woman who was both a Sioux Indian and an accomplished ethnologist.IMG_4886

Ella Cara Deloria (1888-1971) offered a perspective that originates within the American Indian community. As the daughter of a Yankton Sioux who became an Episcopal priest at the Standing Rock Reservation in the Tetons, Deloria was raised by parents who spoke both English and Dakota. She studied at Oberlin and Teacher’s College, Columbia, where she earned a Bachelor of Science. In the 1920s, Deloria began working under the tutelage of the father of modern anthropology, Franz Boas. She collected and recorded all facets of traditional Sioux life such as kinship roles, camp circle social systems, the economics of giving, myths and legends, etc. She compiled her findings into a few publications, including the fictional Waterlily. However, Deloria states that:

 “Only my characters are imaginary; the things that happen are what the many old women informants have told me as having been their own or their mother’s or other relatives’ experiences. I can claim as original only the method of fitting these events and ceremonies into the tale…[I]t reads convincingly to any who understand Dakota life…And it is purely the woman’s point of view, her problems, aspirations, ideals, etc.”

First published forty years after she completed it, Waterlily provides great insight into Sioux society and the importance of kinship. We hope you’ll join us for a thoughtful discussion on Saturday, November 8th. The first five registrants receive a free copy of the book!

Art of Slowing Down

Tea & Talk is back! From September through May, we are hosting a Tea & Talk program every second Wednesday of the month from 2-3pm. Tea & Talk is an opportunity to slow down the art viewing process. We look at two works of art, carefully, and share our observations while we process what we see.Tea & Talk 11.6.13 cropped

According to museum research, the average visitor spends 15 to 30 seconds in front of a work of art. In a recent New York Times article, James O. Pawelski, the director of education for the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, compared the art viewing process to visiting a library. “When you go to the library, you don’t walk along the shelves looking at the spines of the books and on your way out tweet to your friends, ‘I read 100 books today!’ Yet that’s essentially how many people experience a museum. They see as much of art as you see spines of books.”Tea&Talkexample

During Tea & Talk, we engage and connect with the artwork as much as we engage and connect with each other through conversation about the art. Whether you’re new to art museums or an art expert, Tea & Talk opens everyone to new discoveries.  You might even leave feeling refreshed and inspired!

Artist as Recorder

Over the weekend, in celebration of the art museum’s new exhibition, Take Two: George Catlin Revisits the West, we hosted a children’s workshop. Through sketching and painting activities, participants spent time considering George Catlin’s role as recorder before mass photography, documenting the great American West during his travels in the 1830s.

While in the galleries, docents discussed traveling artists in the 1800s and how the act of documenting what they saw contributes to our American History today.Artist as Recorder 1

After learning about Catlin, everyone received a canvas travel backpack and sketching supplies and undertook the role of recorder as they traveled the gallery to document with their new art tools what they had seen and learned. artist as recorder 2

The adventure continued in the studio classroom where participants created their very own scene in paint inspired by the collection and their sketches. In addition to their sketching supplies, each student received a take-home painting kit complete with brushes, acrylic paint, and painting paper.artist as recorder 3

A Russell Documentary

Recently, the museum received a special visit from Montana PBS, which is currently filming a documentary about Charlie Russell and his time in the American West.  Writer and producer, Paul Zalis, is working with many scholars and institutions on this project, including yours truly. One of the project’s chief scholars is Dr. Brian Dippie who is also the guest curator for our current exhibition, Take Two: George Catlin Revisits the West.

Mr. Zalis and his crew filmed Dr. Dippie and Western art scholar, Dr. Rick Stewart, as they toured our collection. PBS Montana 1PBS Montana 2

Let’s chat with Paul Zalis to learn more about the project.

Why a documentary about Charlie Russell?  

Making a documentary on Charlie Russell was actually an in-the-shower, light bulb, “Ahaa!” moment that my co-producer, Gus Chambers, had. No one has ever done a serious documentary on Russell, which is kind of astounding. Beyond that, Russell is revered in Montana. He is almost our patron saint. But traveling around the States, I realized that the farther I got away from Big Sky country, the less people know who he was. Charlie truly was a great, iconic American, and it’s about time to re-introduce him to the American public.

What drew you to the Sid Richardson Museum?  

Sid Richardson was, along with people like Tom Gilcrease and Amon Carter, one of the great, early collectors of Russell’s work. We had heard what a wonderful, intimate museum the Sid Richardson is, and the thoughtful, concise collection at SRM, just off Sundance Square, is a splendid way for people to see, side-by-side, two of America’s greatest Western artists:  Russell and Remington. Mary Burke and the staff have done a wonderful job making the SRM such an inviting space.

What has been the most interesting fact/story you’ve learned about Charlie Russell from your visits with scholars and museums?

The stories and facts are too numerous and too challenging to categorize, but on a personal level, to me and many others,  Russell was an artistic genius, but perhaps his greatest attribute was his sheer likeability and his loyalty to his friends. The word ‘authentic’ is often too easily tossed around, but Charlie was the real deal.

What would you like audiences to learn from watching your film?

The film is far from finished, but we hope that people will not only learn about an extraordinary artist and man who lived and bore witness to a passing era in American history, but through his art work and influence in the early Hollywood film industry, he was ultimately a man who helped shape our image of ourselves as Westerners and Americans.

When/how can audiences outside of Montana view your film?

There will be two films:  A 3-part, 3-hr. mini-series to premiere in Montana the Fall of 2015, and soon thereafter, a one-hour film that will be distributed nationally, and made available to all public television stations, either through PBS or American Public Television.

Happy Birthday, Oscar!

Today marks the birthday of Oscar Berninghaus, another artist represented in our collection. Berninghaus is best known as a painter of the Southwest. Although born and raised in St. Louis, the young artist became enamored with Taos, New Mexico after his first trip West in 1899.

The same year New Mexico became a state in 1912, Berninghaus helped found the Taos Society of Artists. The other founding members include Joseph Sharp, Bert Phillips, Ernest Blumenschein, Irving Couse, and Herbert Dunton. The main mission of the Society was to promote the sale of paintings by its members. Since there wasn’t a gallery in Taos at the time, the group organized exhibitions to travel to galleries back East in major art markets like New York, Chicago, and St. Louis.

Through their efforts, the Society put Taos on the map. Painters, sculptors, writers, and other leading intellectuals flocked to the small Southwest town, including Mabel Dodge, D.H. Lawrence, Andrew Dasburg, and Georgia O’Keeffe. By the 1920s, Taos had become one of the great art centers of the world.

Many were looking to Taos as a leader of a real American style, with members of the Society receiving rave reviews. Critics claimed that Berninghaus offered work that is all-American. The horses depicted were, in their essence, American. The desert is American. His was a “real” American art.

Oscar E. Berninghaus, The Forty-Niners, Before 1942, Oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 36 1/4 inches

Oscar E. Berninghaus, The Forty-Niners, Before 1942, Oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 36 1/4 inches

Happy Birthday, William R. Leigh!

Today marks the birthday of another SRM artist, William Robinson Leigh. Of the painters who gained fame as delineators of the American West around the turn of the century, Leigh is routinely cited as the most thoroughly trained. He studied at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore at the age of 14 and left for Germany a few years later to attend the Royal Academy in Munich.

William R. Leigh | Bears in the Path (Surprise) | 1904 | Oil on canvas | 21 1/8 x 33 1/8 inches

William R. Leigh | Bears in the Path (Surprise) | 1904 | Oil on canvas | 21 1/8 x 33 1/8 inches

In 1900, after having met the American landscape artist Thomas Moran and hearing of the artist’s appeal for more native art rather than imitations of foreign styles, Leigh confirmed his interest in the West. Leigh wished to paint what he thought to be uniquely American, and for Leigh, the West embodied everything that was intrinsically American. But it was not until the artist was nearly 40 that he was able to pursue his boyhood dream of painting the American West.

In 1906, Leigh traveled to New Mexico. The artist fell in love with the desert country and returned to the Southwest every summer for the next three years. Beginning in 1910, Leigh also accepted invitations to join hunting trips to the Yellowstone region and the high ranges of the Rockies. It was during these journeys to the West when Leigh had his first encounter with American Indians of the Crow and Sioux tribes.

In the thirties, Leigh also wrote articles, plays, and short stories while teaching at the Art Students League and the New York Evening School of Industrial Art. Leigh continued to paint scenes of the West, with the works of his last fifteen years to be considered among his greatest. Formally recognized by the National Academy of Design, Leigh was given the title National Academician in 1955, days before his death. Leigh died on March 11, 1955, after a productive morning of painting.

William R. Leigh | The Hold Up (The Ambush) | 1903 | Oil on canvas | 32 3/4 x 22 3/4 inches

William R. Leigh | The Hold Up (The Ambush) | 1903 | Oil on canvas | 32 3/4 x 22 3/4 inches