Fresh out of college, Louis Potter went to Paris with the intention of becoming a painter. He soon realized that sculpting, and not painting, was the form of expression most natural to him.
While in France, Potter developed an interest in ethnography and the depiction of members of other cultures. He traveled to North Africa where his portrayals of Bedouins came to the notice of the Bey of Tunis who decorated him with the Order of Renown and chose his work as the sole representation of Tunisian types at the Paris Exposition in 1900.
Once back in the United States, he decided to turn his talents to the portrayal of Native Americans and to that end traveled among the Indians. Fire Dance [SAAM, 1917.3.1] is one of a series of sculptures that represents the battle with the fundamental elements of nature, a series that also included a Dance of the Wind Gods.
Amy Pastan The Lure of the West: Treasures of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (New York and Washington, D.C.: Watson-Guptill Publications, in cooperation with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2000)
Louis Potter was noted for his bust of the humorist Mark Twain as well as his statues of Native Americans. He spent his childhood in upstate New York, studied sculpture at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and spent his summers painting. He graduated in 1896 and traveled to Paris, where he remained for three years perfecting his skills. He then traveled to Tunisia, where he was decorated as an officer by the government in honor of his depictions of Arab life. After returning to America and setting up a studio in New York City, Potter traveled to Alaska to learn about the native cultures. His experiences there prompted the artist to create idealized sculptures of Native Americans.