Art Depicting Native Americans

August 30, 2022

Art Depicting Native Americans

Before the introduction of photography, many depictions of Native Americans were only a mere reflection of white settlers' own perceptions of Native Americans. Through photography, Native Americans were perceived with more accurate representation of their life and culture.

One prominent artist in the late 19th century was Frank Albert Rinehart. He was born on February 12, 1861 in Lodi, Illinois and became well-know for producing, what some would say, one of the best photographic documents of Indian leaders at the turn of the century. In 1898 he became the first official photographer of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exhibition in Omaha. In conjunction with this Exhibition the Indian Congress was held, bringing more than 500 Native Americans from 35 tribes together. This was the largest gathering of tribes to that date. Having such a large gathering of Native American leaders Rinehart had a prime opportunity to document these well respected leaders, which he took full advantage of. 

Our 1898 Hubble Big Horse Cheyenne Portrait by Frank A. Rinehart is one of many portraits he took during this time. The platinum print includes copyright, title, date, and inventory number in the negative. Prints such as this were photographed in a studio on the Exposition grounds with an 8 x 10 glass-negative camera with a German lens. Platinum prints were produced to achieve the broad range of tonal values that medium afforded.

After the Exhibition, Rinehart and his assistant Adolph Muhr, who later went on to be employed by Edward S. Curtis, traveled to different Indian reservations for two years. Through these travels they would photograph Native American leaders who had not attended the event, as well as document the everyday life and culture of the indigenous people.

Perhaps one of the most influential artists to document Native American peoples was Edward S. Curtis. Curtis created one of the most enduring and iconic visual records in the history of the photographic medium. Curtis traveled by foot and by horse into the Indian territories, with the aim to capture the spirit of the peoples with film. He lived among the tribes, photographing the people and bringing back his work to be published and shared with the masses.

Curtis began photographing Native Americans in the mid-1890s, selling images in his successful downtown Seattle studio. He spent the summer of 1900 with George Bird Grinnell observing the Sun Dance at an encampment of Blood, Blackfeet, and Algonquin in Montana. This was a pivotal experience for Curtis, confirming his desire to study and photograph the Native tribes of North America. Curtis envisioned a plan to create a massive scholarly and artistic work that would document the tribes west of the Mississippi, their ceremonies, beliefs, daily life, and landscapes. Over more than two decades, Curtis turned these pictures and observations into The North American Indian, a 20-­volume chronicle of 80 tribes. This image is Plate 458 from Volume 13 of The North American Indian.

Another artist known for his Western and Native American depictions is Kermit Oliver, who designed this beautiful "Pani La Shar Pawnee" Hermes silk pocket square. Oliver was born in Refugio, Texas in 1943 and later went on to live and work in Waco, Texas. He worked full time for the U.S. Postal Service while doing his art on the side. This all changed when, in 1980, the owner of Neiman Marcus introduced Oliver to the Hermes company. Through this introduction, Oliver became the only American artist to ever design for Hermes. This scarf was the first of 17 custom designs for Hermes stretching over 32 years. "Pani La Shar Pawnee" highlights the southwestern style Oliver was very well known for and was produced in a variety of colors, but this vibrant red rendition provides stark contrast between the figure and background embellishment. 

This brings us to Chris Calle, an artist who has earned an international reputation as a stamp designer and illustrator. Some of his most well-known work is from his first FDC cachet drawing from 1969 that depicts Armstrong and Aldrin on the Moon in celebration of the moon landing in 1969. Over the next 12 years, Chris designed over 30 U.S. stamps, and hundreds more for entities as diverse as Sweden, Marshall Islands, and the United Nations. And over nearly two decades, Chris produced more than 1,000 Fleetwood FDC cachet paintings. 

             

In December of 1993, Calle painted this mixed media illustration of "Legends of the West - Indian Chief" for inclusion in the “Legends of the Old West” stamp series. Through the use of bright colors, stark contrasts, and fine detail, Calle has achieved a wonderful balance of art and accuracy. The mixed media illustration was published on the 1994 Fleetwood Mint Stamps of the World “Legends of the Old West” Collector's Panel. For what is now a common practice of issuing a set of postal cards with the same designs, this series was the first to do so in 1994. 

Even though each of these depictions have a unique style to them, each one represents a part of Native American culture in a way that is respectful and culturally appropriate. Check out all of the Native American items we have available here.






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