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Bear Dance, Preparing for a Bear Hunt

1835-1837 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. 1985.66.447 Not currently on view


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“The Sioux, like all the others of these western tribes, are fond of bear's meat, and must have good stores of the ‘bear's-grease’ laid in, to oil their long and glossy locks, as well as the surface of their bodies. And they all like the fine pleasure of a bear hunt, and also a participation in the bear dance, which is given several days in succession, previous to their starting out, and in which they all join in a song to the Bear Spirit; which they think holds somewhere an invisible existence, and must be consulted and conciliated before they can enter upon their excursion with any prospect of success. For this grotesque and amusing scene, one of the chief medicine-men, placed over his body the entire skin of a bear, with a war-eagle's quill on his head, taking the lead in the dance, and looking through the skin which formed a masque that hung over his face.” George Catlin based this painting on sketches he made of the dance near Fort Pierre in 1832. (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 1, no. 30, 1841; reprint 1973)

Keywords

Ceremony - dance - Bear Dance

Ceremony - Indian

Ethnic - Indian - Dakota

Ethnic - Indian - Sioux

Figure group - male

Occupation - hunter

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added