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Ball-play Dance, Choctaw

1834-1835 George Catlin Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796 Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872 oil on canvas 19 5/8 x 27 1/2 in. (49.7 x 70.0 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. 1985.66.427 Not currently on view


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In 1834, George Catlin witnessed Choctaw lacrosse in Indian Territory near present-day Oklahoma, and was captivated by the game. Ball-play was at the core of an elaborate ceremony that brought recognition and status to individuals within the tribe. Before the match, players and their supporters passed the night in singing, dancing, and soliciting divine support. Catlin sketched this image of a ball-play dance in 1834 near Fort Gibson, an outpost up the Arkansas River. Catlin later wrote of that evening: “Night came on without the appearance of any players on the ground. But soon after dark, a procession of lighted flambeaux was seen coming from each encampment, to the ground where the players assembled . . . and at the beat of the drums and chaunts of the women, each party of players commenced the ‘ball-play dance.’ Each party danced for a quarter of an hour . . . and all their voices joined in chaunts to the Great Spirit; in which they were soliciting his favour in deciding the game to their advantage.” (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 2, no. 49, 1841, reprint 1973; Gurney and Heyman, eds., George Catlin and His Indian Gallery, 2002)

Keywords

Ceremony - dance - Ball Play Dance

Ceremony - Indian

Ethnic - Indian - Choctaw

Figure group - male and female

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added