Pipestone, Peeved Buffalo, and Painted Centaurs

Many pages have been written about George Catlin. The grand total falls somewhere close to an acre of  paper timber (I completely made that up so don’t go putting it in your Catlin notes). That hyperbole is, in all actuality, probably a low estimate. Many more megabytes of data have been used on blogs and digital storage of some of his famous Indian paintings. If you ever get a chance you should look more in depth than here about his life, his showmanship, his critics, and his art. One day I hope to have a short post with some of his South America art too, but that is for a later time.

These are not a representative sample of his work, nor are they his best, or most reproduced. They are a few that we have seen in the course I am taking that have stood out to me for various reasons.

He Who Outjumps All
A lot of grandiose and romantic literature will refer to (some of) the Indians as the people of the horse in some manner as this “and horse and rider moved as one.” Here, Catlin has painted that. It is almost centaur-like in the combination. (Interesting anatomical sidenote: Centaurs would have two sets of ribs.) The headresses, the flowing of the tail and hair, the fringe and the mane are all this surreal symbiotic existence between man and beast. The horse is also dressed up in finery that is far from traditions Indian style. The breast collar, the rump cover, and even the bridle are all of Spanish origin. Here, secondary to the original intent (I say as if I have talked personally with Catlin about it) is evidence of a far reaching trade relationship between the high plains and the American Southwest. Now, you may or may not know how good the Spanish are (were) with horses. Many even fashioned their own versions of Spanish gear.
The Little Spaniard
Staying with our Spanish theme for one more image is Catlin’s The Little Spaniard or His-oo-san–chees. This spanish child raised into full Indianhood strikes a traditional Greco-Roman pose with all his accessories. The fun behind this one is the name. Take a moment and say pronounce the name outloud, slowly, and then more quickly and see how long it takes you to realize it is Catlin phonetics for Hizo Sanchez.
Buffalo Bull Grazing

Here Catlin has captured a Buffalo (yes I know it is Bison, there is a Far Side comic for you people) in a general state of agitation, and most definitely not grazing. At some point Catlin had wounded one in a hunt such that it could not charge or cause the artist harm and he circled it on horseback sketching the various moods. When the model grew tired, or held a pose longer than Catlin required he would throw something at him to agitate him more. He mentioned doing this with his hat. I am sure they later ate the buffalo that was killed as this was before the railroad sport and bio-warfare on the Indians dropped their numbers to critical extinction levels.

 

The Pipestone Quarry
(don’t you love how someone can copyright an image that was painted almost two centuries ago?)

I end this with a salute to those who study the smallest bits of the earth. Catlin was fortunate enough to see the quarries from whence the raw material for making the famous Indian pipes were created. The pipestone, alternately pipeclay is, for those keeping geological score, an argillite, that is a metamorphosed mudstone. Here Catlin has caught the scene at the mine, in a rough and almost martian landscape. The previous shards and layers split out around the quarry site with the hughe rock formations off to the right (note the tiny figure for scale, I think he is even pointing at it for you). These particular quarry was the first ever seen but white eyes and was in what is present day Minnesota. Other veins exist in Utah and a few other places, but this specific earthly concoction now bears the name Catlinite in the artist’s honor. Once again art and science come together reminding is why we have Colleges of Arts AND Sciences not Colleges of Arts OR Sciences.

Now go spend some time on Google Images looking at all of Catlin’s works.

 

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