Briscoe’s Summer Exhibit Illustrates 19th Century Native American Life

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The Briscoe Western Art Museum presents its summer exhibition showcasing a rare, vibrant set of artist George Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. This edition of 31 hand-painted color plates is one of only three known sets still in existence. Catlin’s Portfolio is among the most famous color plate books relating to North America’s Native populations produced in the 19th century.

Catlin was one of the first artists to venture along the western reach of the Missouri River to study and document the Native peoples of the region. From 1832 to 1837, Catlin spent the summer months sketching the tribes of the Great Plains and then finished his pictures in oils during the winter. Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio contains the lithographic prints resulting from his years of painting, living with, and traveling among tribes such as the Mandan, Sioux (Lakota), Blackfeet, Crow, and several others. Overall, Catlin painted around 600 highly realistic and powerfully projected portraits of Indians, carefully recording their dress, culture, and way of life.

In addition to publishing the Portfolio, Catlin spent from 1837 to 1852 touring the United States, England, France, and the Netherlands, exhibiting his collection of paintings with examples of Native American arts and crafts. He was accompanied by representative members of the Indian tribes he painted during this time. Financial problems in 1852 caused Catlin to lose his collection. He spent his later years making trips to South and Central American, sketching the Native peoples there.

In 1852, however, financial reversal meant that Catlin lost his collection. A Philadelphia industrialist paid Catlin’s debts and acquired the Indian Gallery, and soon after Catlin’s death, the paintings were donated to the Smithsonian Institution. Catlin’s Indian Gallery is now recognized as a great cultural treasure, offering rare insight into Native cultures and a crucial chapter in American history.

The Briscoe’s Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio exhibition is free for members and with paid museum admission and will be on display from June 23 through September 4. The exhibition also includes excerpts from the documentary film, Frontier Visionary: George Catlin and the Plains Indians, produced by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and a reference reading area. The Briscoe Museum offers extended hours and free admission every Tuesday from 4-9 p.m.

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