Monday, November 19, 2007

Vanishing Frontier: Rookwood, Farny and the American Indian

The Cincinnati Art Museum is having an exhibit showing area artists (around 1860-1900) depiction of the American Indian. They described the exhibit, "As the American Indian's traditional way of life was ending. Cincinnati's artists created legendary images that define how we view them today." Cincinnati is not now nor then anywhere near the West. So how did these area artist get their ideas of what an Indian was and how they lived? My friend and I went to this exhibit thinking we would see some paintings of lifestyle of Indians and vases with painted portraits of Indians. What we learned was that the Rookwood Pottery artist (after portrait lessons from Frank Duveneck) used photos from professional photographers. These photographers had gone to the many reservations throughout the US to take these portraits. The Rookwood artist kept the images close to the pictures they used to create the beautiful pottery. Carol Young, and a few others in this collection, seemed to be the premier pottery painter. These pieces of decorative pottery were exquisite. Not only were the portraits beautiful, the pieces were in mint condition. Henry Farny was and illustrator turned fine artist when he figured out that he could "sell" the American Indian persona. These paintings are fine paintings until you read the captions and learn that Farny created the Indian in the way the Government was portraying them which was that they were evil. Henry Farny did travel out west to see Indians up close, but as the historians note he placed items from different tribes together to create the image he wanted. One painting had an Indian sitting at dusk with a campfire, in snow, with his dogs and sled filled with items. The things a historian pointed out that was incorrect was the dogs would not have been near the fire, but snuggled together in a snow drift to conserve heat. The Indians snow shoes would not have been laying on the ground, but leaned against the tree to dry. One would think that because he had a sled that the dogs would have pulled it there. However, dogs did not pull sleds in this location of the US. Although we enjoyed the exhibit tremendously, we were surprised on how the historical aspect of the American Indian was so misrepresented. These stereotypes happened because the "white" man in the east thought that was how things were and paid to see the Indian like that. Our government wanted us to see them as the "bad" guy to they could take the land away from them. Buffalo Bill's show was how everyone in the east and around the world saw the Indian so that is what artist painted. We also learned that at our own zoo hired a tribe to put up a camp during the summer months to live and show the public that visited their dances, etc.. Artist, like Farny, hired Indians as models. I came away feeling sorry for my ancestors perpetuation of this myth of the American Indians being evil. I did not like learning that when I look at a painting about Indians they are probably all wrong from a historical aspect. The curators of this exhibit mingled in pieces that were props. Next to the paintings that Farny painted Indians with riffles in their hands was the Winchester he used. Their was a beautiful headdress displayed that Henry Farny used in a portrait. Other artifacts through out the exhibit were items decorated with beads like moccasins, pouches for flint, arrows, or to carry things and leggings; axes, a blanket, a basket and a hide of a buffalo with drawings all over it. Most of these items (or items similar) could be found in in the Rookwood and Farny paintings. Although I was surprised by the lack of historical value in these paintings, I was impressed on the execution of the work. I highly recommend seeing the exhibit. It will be at the CAM until January 20, 2008. Gaylynn

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails