Thank you, Docents!

Yesterday we celebrated our wonderful group of docents with a holiday luncheon. We are so honored to work with such a talented and caring ensemble of volunteers. These men and women are vital to our art museum. Through their passion and knowledge of art of the American West, the docents help to positively shape visitor’s attitudes about art and museums.docents 7

We’re not the only ones who appreciate our volunteers. At the end of every field trip, we send out a survey to assess student visits and learn how we can better serve future school groups. Here is just some of the feedback we received from anonymous teachers:

“[The docents] were excellent! The ladies were well informed and had all kinds of anecdotal observations that the kids loved. They were very patient and let the students engage with them which was wonderful.”

“Cannot wait to come back. Thank you!!”

“The docents and entire staff were absolutely wonderful! They were very knowledgeable and presented the information appropriately for 4th graders.”docents 6docents 2

“Our experience was completely positive! Every part of the trip was well-organized, and that greatly reduces stress for students (and for teachers). Each of the adults used a calm, confident tone of voice. That’s also a big plus!”

“The atmosphere was very warm and inviting. The docents who led the tour were wonderful as well as knowledgeable.”

“The most kid-friendly museum in all of the Metroplex!”docents 4

“Everyone was so lovely and helpful. I appreciated that there were plenty of adults to handle the kids and to help them.”

“[The docents] were great. Very welcoming and accommodating. Used kid friendly language and seemed enthusiastic.”

“The staff was gracious and very helpful. I could tell that they have worked with students before because of their patience. We had a wonderful experience.”docents 3docents 1

Thank you, docents, for all that you do for the Sid Richardson Art Museum!!!

The Push for a National Art

Our current exhibition, Take Two: George Catlin Revisits the West, features a selection of paintings from Catlin’s Second Indian Gallery. These works revisit paintings from Catlin’s First Indian Gallery, a collection of works that the artist tried to sell to the U.S. government – on several occasions.

Historically, artists in Europe and elsewhere were financially supported through commissions and patronage, often from the church or governing monarchy. Unfortunately for Catlin, the congressmen of the U.S. government generally considered artistic patronage to be a minor concern, focusing more efforts on the controversial expansion of slavery into the newly acquired western territories. But Catlin was determined to secure the patronage of the federal government.

Why did Catlin feel so strongly that the government should own and exhibit his 607 portraits and scenes of western American Indians? Guest curator and Catlin scholar Brian Dippie asserts that during this period in American history, there was a desire and campaign for a national culture and art. Naturally, no theme seemed more appropriate than that of the country’s native tribes. In fact, beginning in the early 1800s, the government was commissioning Indian portraits. Visiting Indian dignitaries would sit for their likenesses during their visit with the Great White Father in Washington.

George Catlin | O-Jib-Be-Ways | Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. From Drawings and Notes of the Author, Made During Eight Years’ Travel Amongst Forty-Eight of the Wildest and Most Remote Tribes of Savages in North America. | ca. 1875

George Catlin | O-Jib-Be-Ways | Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. From Drawings and Notes of the Author, Made During Eight Years’ Travel Amongst Forty-Eight of the Wildest and Most Remote Tribes of Savages in North America. | ca. 1875

In 1838, Catlin made his first attempt at persuading the American government to purchase his Indian Gallery. He set sail for England the following year without a sale. Dippie notes how newspapers mourned the loss of this national legacy while admonishing the politicians for letting this most American of collections slip through their hands. But Catlin never gave up and persistently pursued the acceptance of his paintings to a great national museum. Although this was never achieved during his lifetime, today Catlin’s First Indian Gallery now resides in the Smithsonian American Art Museum while much of his Second Indian Gallery hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

George Catlin | Wi-Jun-Jon Assineboin Chief Going to Washington and Returning | Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. From Drawings and Notes of the Author, Made During Eight Years’ Travel Amongst Forty-Eight of the Wildest and Most Remote Tribes of Savages in North America. | ca. 1875

George Catlin | Wi-Jun-Jon Assineboin Chief Going to Washington and Returning | Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. From Drawings and Notes of the Author, Made During Eight Years’ Travel Amongst Forty-Eight of the Wildest and Most Remote Tribes of Savages in North America. | ca. 1875

Catlin in Context

Like George Catlin and his summer excursions to the American West in the 1830s, many American painters were inspired by an adventurous lifestyle in the early 19th century. These artists experienced unspoiled terrain and wanted to convey the splendor and excitement of the nation’s wilderness. A well-known artistic movement from this period was that of the Hudson River School. American artists like Thomas Cole and Asher Durand used their canvases to capture the beauty of rural life and the sublimity of the untamed frontier. Influenced by Romanticism, their paintings present a dramatic and dreamy view of the country.

Thomas Cole, The Hunter’s Return, 1845, Oil on Canvas, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Thomas Cole, The Hunter’s Return, 1845, Oil on Canvas, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Romanticism is a term often used to describe artwork from Catlin’s period. First applied to literature around 1800, the romantic artistic movement flourished in France and Britain throughout the first half of the 19th century. Disenchanted with the Enlightenment and its values of reason and order, Romanticism stressed imagination and emotion. Artistically, the movement is not defined by one style or subject matter. As the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire wrote in 1846, “Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling.”

Distraught over the destruction of American Indian cultures, Catlin paintings appealed to mid-19th century romantics like Baudelaire, who, as mentioned previously, visited Catlin’s Indian Gallery in Paris and greatly admired the artist’s work. Through paint, Catlin conveyed a melancholic spirit as he hurried to capture and record a way of life that would be known by future generations through the visual record he was preserving.

George Catlin | Encampment of Pawnee Indians at Sunset | 1861 - 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

George Catlin | Encampment of Pawnee Indians at Sunset | 1861 – 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

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.

portfolios

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 series.book 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