The Photographic Legacy of George Catlin’s Indian Gallery

Last week we had the good fortune to be joined by Karen Barber, Curatorial Fellow in Photography at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, where she is currently working on a project related to photography and Native America. Karen talked to us about the continuing legacy of George Catlin’s Indian Gallery in 19th and 20th-century photography.Karen Barber lecture

After amassing an Indian Gallery of more than 500 paintings, Catlin began to exhibit his collection to American audiences. He believed that Indian cultures were vanishing and would be known by future generations only through the visual record he was preserving. What he didn’t know at the time was that others would continue his mission through a new visual record: photography.

David Barry, Curley, ca. 1885-1895, Albumen silver print, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

David F. Barry, Curley, ca. 1885-1895, Albumen silver print, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

David F. Barry, Sitting Bull or Tata'nka I'Yota'nka, ca. 1886, Collodion silver chloride print, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

David F. Barry, Sitting Bull or Tata’nka I’Yota’nka, ca. 1886, Collodion silver chloride print, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Frank A. Rinehart,  Portrait of Sherman Niles in Partial Native Dress with Ornaments, 1900,  Platinum print, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Frank A. Rinehart, Portrait of Sherman Niles in Partial Native Dress with Ornaments, 1900, Platinum print, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Frank A. Rinehart, Geronimo, (Guyatle), Apache, ca. 1898, Platinum print, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas;

Frank A. Rinehart, Geronimo, (Guyatle), Apache, ca. 1898, Platinum print, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas;

The same year Catlin left the U.S. to find new prospects abroad in Europe in 1839, the birth of photography was publically announced. Six years later, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson produced what some consider to be the first existing photograph of a Native American. Photography was quickly adopted as the favored medium by which to record American Indians. In addition to its speed, the reproductive aspect of photography appealed to many. The insured survival of an image had become a newly cherished feature, particularly after the devastating 1865 fire at the Smithsonian Institution, which destroyed their entire collection of invaluable Indian portraits by artists Charles Bird King and John Mix Stanley. By the late 19th century, photographers like Edward Curtis and Joseph Kossuth Dixon were commissioned to lead expeditions with a mission similar to Catlin’s – to study the habits, costumes, and villages of Native Americans.

Edward S. Curtis, The Old Cheyenne, 1930, Photogravure, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Edward S. Curtis, The Old Cheyenne, 1930, Photogravure, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Edward S. Curtis, The Vanishing Race-Navaho, 1907,  Photogravure, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Edward S. Curtis, The Vanishing Race-Navaho, 1907, Photogravure, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Both Curtis and Dixon have been criticized for the sentimental quality of their work. Although photography began as a simple record of reality, by the turn of the 20th century, pictorialism dominated the field. Through staged shots and photographic manipulations, photographers transformed what was once a purely documentary medium into an art form. By “creating” their own image, Curtis and Dixon’s photographs reinforced the romanticized identity of the “noble savage.” Like Remington and Russell’s paintings that helped craft the myth of the Wild West, photographers began to use their camera to construct a notion of the Indian.

Today, many American Indians have stepped behind the lens to respond to the romanticized representation of Native peoples. Photographers like Tom Jones (Ho-Chunk), Will Wilson (Diné), and Rosalie Favell (Cree Métis) examine the experiences of the American Indian and seek to portray the complex identity of their cultures. The result is a contemporary vision of Native North America.

George Catlin Landscapes

Last week the museum hosted an adult program called Sid’s Studio, in which we created landscape paintings inspired by the works of George Catlin.IMG_5962

While Catlin is known for his portraits and scenes of everyday life of American Indians, at the foundation of his paintings are his landscapes. When Catlin made his first trips up the Missouri River in 1830 and 1832, he was enraptured by the landscape. Although the Philadelphian portraitist originally intended to paint the Native Americans themselves, the artist felt compelled to depict their prairies, rivers, and hills as well.

In his Letters and Notes, Catlin wrote:

There is no more beautiful prairie country in the world, than that which is to be seen in this vicinity…The surface of the country is gracefully and slightly undulating, like the swells of the retiring ocean after a heavy storm.

Later, while traveling with an expedition of military dragoons in 1834 through the Arkansas Territory, the artist was again enchanted by the geography of his journey.

The landscape scenes of these wild and beautiful regions are, of themselves, a rich reward for the traveler who can place them in his portfolio; and being myself the only one accompanying the dragoons for scientific purposes, there will be an additional pleasure to be derived from those pursuits.

background painting 2Layered landscape

During our Sid’s Studio program, we studied and discovered the intricacies of Catlin’s landscapes. Like him, we layered our paintings, first establishing our background. After a sketching trip to the galleries for inspiration (and to let our first layer of paint dry), we returned to our canvases to complete our landscape compositions. I think our participants derived as much pleasure from these pursuits as George Catlin did during his 1830s excursions West.

Happy Birthday, Sid!

On this day in 1891, Sid Richardson was born. During his lifetime, Sid demonstrated two defining characteristics: an ability to make lasting friendships and the ability to make money.

John Connally, Sid Richardson, Lyndon Johnson, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Dinner, 1957. Courtesy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

John Connally, Sid Richardson, Lyndon Johnson, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Dinner, 1957. Courtesy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

Though he was friends with many famous people throughout his career, including at the time, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Secretary of the Treasury George Humphrey, and Texas Congressman Sam Rayburn and Senator Lyndon Johnson, Sid shied away from the public eye. In 1954, five years before the oilman’s death, writer Eleanor Harris captured a rare interview with the billionaire bachelor for an article in Look magazine.

Sid was a serious businessman but also a compassionate man with a dry, “country” humor:

At 63, Sid Richardson is a big, easy-moving, barrel-bodied man with a face as pleasantly seamy as an old dog’s. The facial furrows are arranged around quiet hazel eyes and a crooked smile; he has thinning brown hair, and he walks with a rolling gait. “The swingin’ walk of mine is my own invention,” he drawls. “Broke my laig when I was 15; it’s a inch and a quarter shorter than the other. So I practice me a walk that wouldn’t make me limp. Took me a year – now I take long steps with the long laig, short steps with the other.” Perched on his good leg, he stands six feet tall.

Amon Carter, Dwight Eisenhower, Sid Richardson (seated), 1950. Courtesy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

Amon Carter, Dwight Eisenhower, Sid Richardson (seated), 1950. Courtesy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

Despite Sid’s perpetual bachelorhood, rumors constantly floated around Fort Worth, pairing the oilman with several lucky ladies, including the starlet Joan Crawford, with whom Sid had dined on many occasions. But Sid never married. He said he enjoyed life as is, living in his two-room suite in the Fort Worth Club, where he displayed his collection of paintings by Charles Russell and Frederic Remington. He began amassing his art collection in 1942, after Sid had struck it rich with the Keystone Oil Field in West Texas.

Although Sid became known for his riches, the East Texas-born man wasn’t always so lucky. His failed business in the cattle industry and attempts at early wildcatting left him broke more than once. Sid’s business advice:

“Don’t be in too big a hurry; don’t get excited; don’t lose your sense of humor. You can’t be objective and emotional at the same time…Luck helped me, too, every day of my life. And I’d rather be lucky than smart, ‘cause a lot of smart people ain’t eatin’ regular.”

National Volunteer Week

This week is National Volunteer Week. We are so thankful to have a dedicated group of docents who volunteer their time to share their passion about art and history with others. It is because of our docents that we are able to connect with so many school children and visitors every year at the Sid Richardson Museum.

In honor of National Volunteer Week, we’d like to kick off a new blog series dedicated to our docents. Today I’d like to introduce you to Phyllis.Phyllis

SRM: What drew you to the Sid Richardson Museum?

Phyllis: My father-in-law was a board member at Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve in Oklahoma for more than 50 years. My family went to the museum every time we were in Bartlesville.  I really enjoyed viewing the western art in their collection and had always wanted to learn more about Charles Russell and Frederic Remington.

SRM: What do you want visitors to get out of your adult tours?

Phyllis: I enjoy telling visitors information that they would not learn by reading the Gallery Guide – something surprising or interesting.

SRM: What are some of your most memorable tour moments?

Phyllis: During our school tours, seeing the expressions on the children’s faces and hearing their comments about a story produces the more memorable experiences for me. We have a painting by Russell titled Utica. One of my favorite activities with this paintings is asking the students to recreate the sounds, or “music,” one would hear from this lively scene. It’s so much fun!

SRM: How has being a docent changed you?

Phyllis: Since retiring, I feel that continuing learning about the art collection and new exhibits at the museum has definitely made me a more interesting person. And I have made some friends with people I would not have had the opportunity to meet.

SRM: What’s your favorite part of the job?

Phyllis: My favorite part of the job is sharing the art with the children groups.

Museum Education

This year Kat and I had the good fortune to attend the annual National Art Education Association conference in New Orleans.NOLA

During the conference, we had the opportunity to visit some of the local museums, including the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Contemporary Arts Center, and the New Orleans Museum of Art (which has a gorgeous sculpture garden).

 

Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Contemporary Arts Center

Contemporary Arts Center

New Orleans Museum of Art

New Orleans Museum of Art

Sculpture Garden at NOMA

Sculpture Garden at NOMA

The conference was a great way for us to meet our fellow art museum educators from across the country and learn more about the field. From innovative tour design to fresh ideas for public programming, we’re excited to share our new knowledge with the rest of our museum staff and docents.

Colors of the West

“If you will permit me to observe, I will say I think the lighting in your studio is too cold. I have found the same trouble and two years ago I painted or stained both my studio here and my summer one a rich red which had the effect of warming up my paint immediately. Why don’t you try it?” – A letter from Frederic Remington to wildlife painter Carl Rungius

Last week the museum hosted its annual Spring Break workshops for both children and tweens. During their visit, the students explored color theory and how color influences mood and story in artwork.IMG_5569Color theory

In the galleries, docents led the children on a journey through the West, observing how artists like Frederic Remington and George Catlin, who both went West in the 1800s, captured the great American frontier in paint. The students observed how the color of a composition can drastically change the tone and feeling of painting, whether it be the use of warm colors to portray a sweltering, hot desert or the application of cool colors to illustrate a nocturnal scene.Gallery 1Gallery 2

Back in the studio, after practicing color theories, each young artist had the opportunity to apply their newly-acquired knowledge by creating their own canvas painting.Studio 1Studio 2

Dobie and The Longhorns

Last week we temporarily installed a display in the galleries of a book from the museum’s library by folklorist and author J. Frank Dobie, The Longhorns — originally from the library of Sid Richardson.

Sid Richardson enjoyed a warm friendship with Dobie who, at Sid’s invitation, used Richardson’s San Jose Island ranch as a writer’s haven in 1939 when he wrote The Longhorns. Each print edition of The Longhorns opens with a dedication to Sid, and each of the twenty chapters, illustrated by Tom Lea, is dedicated to a significant individual in Dobie’s life:

TO SID W. RICHARDSON

who is attempting to raise Longhorns on his ranch on Saint Joseph’s Island, where a part of this book was written, and who has encouraged it otherwise.

An old custom among Spanish bullfighters is, just before a bull is killed, to dedicate it to some individual in the stand. I have many bulls to kill; many individuals have helped me bring them in. Chapter by chapter, I make particular dedications to some of these friends.

The Longhorns | J. Frank Dobie | Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1941 | Inscription by Frank Dobie to Sid Richardson, March 12, 1942 | Sid Richardson Museum

The Longhorns | J. Frank Dobie | Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1941 | Inscription by Frank Dobie to Sid Richardson, March 12, 1942 | Sid Richardson Museum

Dobie wrote a personal inscription in Sid’s copy of The Longhorns, and “branded it” in the upper and lower left corners, as seen here.

I dedicated this book to Sid Richardson. Now I am branding it for him, so that it will have a better chance of not being stolen by some cow thief he entertains on Saint Joseph’s Island, where I stayed while I was writing about Sam Maverick’s mavericks. –Frank Dobie 3/12/42

Dobie later helped Richardson in his mission to preserve the Texas Longhorn by selecting a herd to be purchased by Richardson, and finding placement for the Longhorns in Texas state parks.  The herds were later consolidated and in 1948, moved to Fort Griffin State Park. Today, Fort Griffin State Park maintains the Longhorn herd. If you would like to learn more about the author, you can read about a short biography about J. Frank Dobie – writer, teacher and folklorist – at the Texas State Historical Association’s website.IMG_5499 editedIMG_5505

The book is illustrated by Tom Lea, an artist who may be familiar to many Texans. The jacket-frontispiece is reproduced from a mural he painted for the U.S. Post Office in Odessa, Texas, by courtesy of the Section of Fine Arts, Federal Works Agency, Washington, D.C.

Tom Lea, Stampede, 1940, photo courtesy of Leslie Thompson

Tom Lea, Stampede, 1940, photo courtesy of Leslie Thompson

The book will be on display until April 17. Stop by and enjoy this little piece of Texas and museum history!

Texas Post Office Murals

Sunday marked SRM artist Peter Hurd’s birthday.

During the Great Depression era, like many of his peers, Hurd joined the New Deal art projects to execute several post office murals in locations such as Dallas and Big Spring, Texas and Alamogordo, New Mexico, his native state. In Texas alone, the federal government commissioned 106 artworks for 69 post offices and federal buildings. Several of these pieces are now lost. As a scholar and admirer of American and Texas art of the 1930s, I have made it my personal mission to visit and document the remaining.

Peter Hurd, O Pioneers, 1938, Big Spring, Texas, Photo Courtesy of Leslie Thompson

Peter Hurd, O Pioneers, 1938, Big Spring, Texas, Photo Courtesy of Leslie Thompson

One of the Texas post office murals I have visited is Peter Hurd’s O Pioneers, which he painted in 1938 for Big Spring. The title is stems from a poem by Walt Whitman, a line of which is modified and inscribed on the mural:

 O Pioneers                                                                                                                          Democracy rests finally upon us                                                                                                  And our visions sweep through eternity

The painting depicts a domestic scene of pioneer life on the West Texas prairie. The Section of Fine Arts liked to project images of stability with its frontier subjects and encouraged Hurd to add details that would communicate such, like fat chickens and clothes hanging on the line to dry. While the clothesline doesn’t appear in this composition, Hurd did include the plump poultry, reinforcing another message endorsed by the federal officials: hard work leads to prosperity. In addition, Hurd attended to local details, incorporating Big Spring’s identify mesa, Signal Mountain, in the background.

Joe De Yong, Off to Northern Markets, 1939, Gatesville, Texas, Photo Courtesy of Leslie Thompson

Joe De Yong, Off to Northern Markets, 1939, Gatesville, Texas, Photo Courtesy of Leslie Thompson

To our museum visitors and Charles Russell followers, another familiar name found among the Texas post office murals is the cowboy artist’s only protégé, Joe De Yong. In 1939, De Yong painted Off to Northern Markets, for the Gatesville post office. Although a California artist, De Yong grew up among Texas and Oklahoma cowboys, providing him with some knowledge of cattle drives. (Fun fact: De Yong worked on this Gatesville mural while serving as technical advisor and costume designer for the Cecil B. De Mille movie Union Pacific.)

Encore: Artist as Recorder

Back by popular demand, the museum hosted an encore children’s workshop focusing on the artist’s role as recorder.

Like traveling American artists in the 19th century, the kids had to carry their sketching supplies with them throughout the galleries. On our art adventure, each young artist received a canvas bag that they customized and decorated.IMG_5449IMG_5451

With their notes and sketches freshly drawn, the young traveling artists journeyed into the studio classroom where they brought their drawings to life with paint and canvas.Artist as recorder encoreIMG_5463artist as recorder artists

Campin’ Buddies

“In the city men shake hands and call each other friends but it’s the lonesome places that ties their harts together and harts do not forget.”

– Charles M. Russell to Santa Fe [Tom Conway], March 24, 1917

Last week we welcomed back home one of our own – Charles Russell’s Man’s Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed. Originally hung in Sid Richardson’s dining room at his San Jose Island home, this painting is a favorite among our visitors and had been out on loan with the traveling exhibition, Harmless Hunter: The Wildlife Work of Charles M. Russell, which was organized by the National Museum of Wildlife Art and the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of the Art of the American West, University of Oklahoma.

Charles Russell, Man's Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed, 1916, Oil on canvas, 30 inches x 48 1/8 inches

Charles Russell, Man’s Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed, 1916, Oil on canvas, 30 inches x 48 1/8 inches

rehanging collage 2

After completing Man’s Weapons…, Russell gifted the painting to his good friend, Howard Eaton, a pioneer dude rancher. Originally from Pittsburgh, Eaton had settled in North Dakota in 1882 and then relocated permanently on the eastern side of the Big Horn Mountains once his dude wrangling business gained a popular reputation. In fact, the Eaton dude ranch is still open today on Wolf Creek and operated by the fourth and fifth generations of Eatons.

The ranch sits near some national historic sites and parks. Howard Eaton had expanded his operation to include trail rides through the nearby Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks and to the Southwest along the Grand Canyon. Russell accompanied Eaton on several trail rides, including a camping trip through Glacier in 1915 and 1916.

Russell (third from left) modeling for (from left) Howard Eaton, artist Joe Scheuerle, and an unidentified man in Glacier in 1915, AJ Baker, photographer, MHS photograph archives, Helena, Pac 99-52.MI, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Russell (third from left) modeling for (from left) Howard Eaton, artist Joe Scheuerle, and an unidentified man in Glacier in 1915, AJ Baker, photographer, MHS photograph archives, Helena, Pac 99-52.MI, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

The artist and his wife Nancy joined an Eaton party on a particularly memorable excursion through Navajo country and the Grand Canyon in Fall 1916 and kept a photo album of the trip, which shows Charlie relaxed and happy. The couple had been on an excursion to the Southwest before, and were both completely enchanted by Arizona. Nancy later recounted to a friend, “This trip has been a trip of memories. Chas. just loved it all and had such a good time every day then around the camp fires at night they always had the big talk.”

The Eaton party on Bright Angel Trail, Howard Eaton in the lead in vest and tie, Photograph by Almeron J. Baker, Helen E. and Homer E. Britzman Collection.  TU2009.39.7650.81/D.10.845. Gilcrease Museum Archives.  University of Tulsa.

The Eaton party on Bright Angel Trail, Howard Eaton in the lead in vest and tie, Photograph by Almeron J. Baker, Helen E. and Homer E. Britzman Collection. TU2009.39.7650.81/D.10.845. Gilcrease Museum Archives. University of Tulsa.

Nancy and Charlie Russell at chow time, Photograph by Almeron J. Baker, Helen E. and Homer E. Britzman Collection.  TU2009.39.7650.20/D.10.784. Gilcrease Museum Archives.  University of Tulsa.

Nancy and Charlie Russell at chow time, Photograph by Almeron J. Baker, Helen E. and Homer E. Britzman Collection. TU2009.39.7650.20/D.10.784. Gilcrease Museum Archives. University of Tulsa.