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Slave Dance, Sac and Fox

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. 1985.66.450 Not currently on view

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“The slave-dance is a picturesque scene, and the custom in which it is founded a very curious one. This tribe has a society which they call the ‘slaves’ composed of a number of the young men of the best families in the tribe, who volunteer to be slaves for the term of two years, and subject to perform any menial service that the chief may order, no matter how humiliating or how degrading it may be; by which, after serving their two years, they are exempt for the rest of their lives, on war-parties or other excursions, or wherever they may be---from all labour or degrading occupations, such as cooking, making fires, &c. &c. . . . These young men elect one from their numbers to be their master, and all agree to obey his command whatever it may be, and which is given to him by one of the chiefs of the tribe. On a certain day or season of the year, they have to themselves a great feast, and preparatory to it the above-mentioned dance.” George Catlin created sketches of the dance at a Sac and Fox village in 1835. (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 2, no. 56, 1841; reprint 1973)


Ceremony - dance - Slave Dance

Ceremony - Indian

Ethnic - Indian - Sauk and Fox

Ethnic - Indian - Sauk and Fox

Figure group - male



paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added