The Voice of the Great Spirit

  • Joseph Henry Sharp, The Voice of the Great Spirit, 1906, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Victor Justice Evans, 1985.66.362,162

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In the early twentieth century, Joseph Henry Sharp established a permanent fall and winter home at the Crow Agency in Montana. With the help of the Crow Indian agent, Samuel Guilford Reynolds, he built a log cabin on the reservation, where he made many paintings of the people and their rituals. This image shows a platform burial for a Crow chief, who lies shrouded in his teepee and surrounded by the personal possessions that will accompany him to the spirit world. Medicines hang above the body to ward off evil spirits, and the heads and tails of the chief’s two favorite horses are tied to the platform’s four supporting poles. Sharp struggled to find a horse’s head to paint, and was discussing the problem in the local store one winter’s evening when an old mountain man overheard the conversation and told them about a dead horse he had found in a nearby ditch. The grieving widow in the painting is a Native American woman named Julia Sun Goes Slow, who reluctantly agreed to pose for the artist. (Fenn, The Beat of the Drum and the Whoop of the Dance, 1983)

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“I made many studies of graves for the painting. This one mostly of a Crow Chief, sewn in rawhide, wrapped in buffalo robes, with his personal treasures. His medicine to keep evil spirits away, on the long pole. His two favorite pony heads on the poles facing the east, tails west, to accompany him to the happy hunting ground.” Sharp, quoted in Fenn, The Beat of the Drum and the Whoop of the Dance, 1983

Title
The Voice of the Great Spirit
Artist
Date
1906
On View
Dimensions
40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.3 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Bequest of Victor Justice Evans

Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
Classifications
Keywords
  • Ceremony – funeral
  • Ceremony – Indian
  • Ethnic – Indian
  • Figure – full length
  • Landscape – mountain
Object Number
1985.66.362,162
Palette
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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