George Catlin was among the earliest artists of European descent to travel beyond the Mississippi River to record what he called the “manners and customs” of American Indians, painting scenes and portraits from life. His intention was to document these native cultures before, as he feared, they were irrevocably altered by settlement of the frontier and the mass migrations forced by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. On his trips, Catlin recorded the massive herds of buffalo that roamed the Great Plains of the American West. In chronicling the lifeways of Plains Indian cultures, he captured the central importance of the buffalo in the daily lives of American Indian tribes, from food and shelter to ceremony and naming.
George Catlin was a complicated and controversial figure in his own century and remains so today. This exhibition examines representations of buffalo and their integration into the lives of Native Americans on the Great Plains. It features forty original paintings by George Catlin in conversation with work by modern Native artists Woodrow Crumbo, Paul Flying Eagle Goodbear, Allan Houser, Julian Martinez, Fritz Scholder, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Awa Tsireh, Thomas Vigil, and Beatien Yazz.
Picturing the American Buffalo: George Catlin and Modern Native American Artists is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from the Knobloch Family Foundation and Wyoming Friends of SAAM.