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Smoking the Shield

1837-1839 George Catlin Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796 Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872 oil on canvas 18 3/4 x 26 1/4 in. (47.5 x 66.6 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. 1985.66.477 Not currently on view


Luce Center Label

“The Sioux shield [is] made of the skin of the buffalo's neck, hardened with the glue extracted from the hoofs and joints of the same animal . . . This skin is at first, twice as large as the size of the required shield; but having got his particular and best friends (who are invited on the occasion) into a ring, to dance and sing around it, and solicit the Great Spirit to instil into it the power to protect him harmless against his enemies, [the young man] spreads over it the glue, which is rubbed and dried in, as the skin is heated; and a second busily drives other and other pegs, inside of those in the gound, as they are gradually giving way and being pulled up by the contraction of the skin. By this curious process, which is most dexterously done, the skin is kept tight whilst it contracts to one-half of its size, taking up the glue and increasing in thickness until it is rendered as thick and hard as required.” (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 1, no. 30, 1841; reprint 1973)

Keywords

Ceremony - Indian - Smoking the Shield

Ethnic - Indian - Dakota

Ethnic - Indian - Sioux

Figure group - male and female

Western

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added