Eiteljorg Musuem Blog
  • Images of the Indian: New installations in the Gund Gallery of Western Art

    by James Nottage, vice president and chief curatorial officer | May 07, 2013

    Eiteljorg vice president and chief curatorial officer, James Nottage, blogs about the new installations in the Gund Gallery of Western Art.
    Joseph Brant When the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, asked about borrowing the Eiteljorg’s painting of The Burial of Uncas by N. C. Wyeth, we were happy to oblige.  The Fenimore is an important museum and they were producing a major exhibit on art of the extended Wyeth family.  Happily, several members of our staff went to graduate school in Cooperstown and had deep familiarity with collections of the Fenimore Art Museum.  One of their great paintings is by the artist best known for his portraits of George Washington.  We asked, while our Wyeth was in New York, if the Fenimore would consider loaning us their Gilbert Stuart portrait of an Iroquois Indian. Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755-1828) was one of the most famed portrait painters of his time.  In 1786 he visited England and was commissioned to paint a portrait of Joseph Brant (1742-1807). Brant was in England at the time.  He had led the Iroquois against Americans in the Revolutionary War, supporting the British. This portrait is considered to be one of the finest depictions of a Native American done in the 18th century.  It clearly reflects the British sense of the Indian as the “noble red man.” The statesman-like pose shows Brant wearing a feathered headdress and he is wrapped in a blanket with a silver decorated shirt.  Time is limited to view this important painting. The Eiteljorg will feature this work, from the collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, from May 2 through September of this year. 

    In placing the Joseph Brant portrait on exhibit, we have taken the opportunity to more deeply explore the manner in which Native Americans have been portrayed by artists through the 1800s.  Visitors will see familiar portraits from our permanent collection by Charles Bird King, E. A. Burbank, and others.  We have also placed three other works in this section of the Gund Gallery that have not been shown.  The first is a new acquisition purchased with funds provided by the George Gund Foundation.  It is titled The Surprise, and was painted by American artist Louis Maurer in 1858.  Maurer had not traveled west or experienced Indian life in person.  In the 1850s, along with English painter A. F. Tait, he visited a library in New York to study books with Indian paintings by Carl Bodmer and George Catlin, who had traveled to the West in the 1830s.  Tait and Maurer created many paintings that were made into popular prints published by the firm of Currier and Ives.  These often violent images depicted Plains warriors as savages in mortal combat with frontiersmen.  Even though they were fictional, the prints created a fearful stereotype in the minds of pioneers headed west.  The Surprise was published by Currier and Ives in 1858. 

    Theodore Baur (American, born in Germany, 1835-1894)

    Two bronzes donated by Harrison Eiteljorg and newly conserved by a special intern, are being shown for the first time in many years.  Theodore Baur (American, born in Germany, 1835-1894), created Chief Crazy Horse, in 1885.  This heroic bust represents an important Lakota warrior known for fighting against U.S. forces at important battles including the Little Big Horn in 1876. Crazy Horse was killed by a soldier while trying to escape from imprisonment in 1877. Theodore Bauer originally conceived of this bronze as a portrait of Sitting Bull. When completed, it became an iconic representation of a sympathetically portrayed, but defeated Crazy Horse. 

    Adolph A. Weinman (American, born Germany, 1870-1952)

    Finally, we are pleased to present the Adolph A. Weinman (American, born Germany, 1870-1952), bronze of Chief Blackbird, cast in 1907.  Weinman’s depictions of the Indian are sympathetic and romanticized.  This bust portrait gives us the stereotype of the warrior-chief wearing an eagle feather headdress.  In the summer of 1902, the artist went to Coney Island and later to Madison Square Garden in New York to create images of Sioux members of Colonel Cummins’ Wild West Indian Congress.  Among them, Chief Blackbird and his wife were favorite subjects. The decorative bust of Blackbird is expressive of the artist’s observation that the subject was “a stoic, if ever there was one.”

    James Nottage
    Eiteljorg vice president and chief curatorial officer 

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  • Why there are 62 body bags inside the Eiteljorg

    by User Not Found | Apr 25, 2013

                                    Bonnie Devine (Ojibwa),Manitoba, 2010, 62 Pandemic Body Bags

    Bonnie Devine’s work, Manitoba, is a powerful piece that is not to be missed. A prominent Canadian First Nation woman and 2011 Eiteljorg Fellow, Devine is a multi-talented sculpture and installation artist, as well as a curator and writer. Devine’s work often deals with issues of her culture, the environment and the Canadian (mis)treatment of First Nations people. Her work, Manitoba, is created with the use of 62 body bags, sent to a reservation in response to request for help during a pandemic.

    Robert Houle (Saulteaux), another prominent First Nation artist and 2003 Eiteljorg Fellow states this about Devine’s installation:

    "Manitoba is a story of surviving influenza and how pandemic body bags were callously sent to the Cree community of St. Theresa Point First Nation in northern Manitoba in 2009. The government of Canada delivered an ominous message by sending dozens of body bags in shipments of medical supplies for the H1N1 influenza pandemic. Once again, in the spirit of solidarity, Devine confronts any obstacle to human dignity with the compassionate rigor of a warrior. As a mother would take pains to comfort a child, Devine takes trauma to heal societal inequities."

    As the label in the Eiteljorg gallery reads: “This act is reminiscent of Native peoples being given blankets that were full of smallpox. Governments are clever, but rarely compassionate, especially to the first peoples (Jennifer Complo-McNutt, Eiteljorg Curator of Contemporary Art).”

    Visitors are invited to interact with the piece in a very intimate way. They can walk amongst the bags and see the individual names of reserves in Manitoba. Every person’s reaction is different. Adults often stand back in reverence or horror, confronted by the meanings of the body bags. Children are often seen running in and out of the maze-like installation or talking with adults to try and better understand the work. While every visitor’s reaction to Manitoba is different, it is definitely an installation you do not want to miss experiencing in person.

    Manitoba is one of several works installed in our contemporary galleries by Canadian First Nations artists. On display in the Harvey gallery is Home and Garden, 2009, Edward Poitras’ (Gordon First Nation) large-scale installation. In the Hurt gallery, visitors can see Faye HeavyShield’s (Kainai-Blood) quiet but powerful piece, hours.

    Have you visited Manitoba? What was your experience? Let us know in the comment space below.

    Ashley Holland

    Ashley Holland
    Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art


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