“Picturing the American Buffalo: George Catlin and Modern Native American Artists”
Oct. 11 – April 12, 2020
In the 19th century, American bison (commonly called the buffalo) thundered across the Great Plains of the American West in the millions. They symbolized the abundance of the land, and for centuries played a vital role in the lives of Native Americans, providing sustenance and spiritual nourishment. Wild and majestic, revered and hunted, buffalo have long captured the popular imagination, and their iconic images figure prominently in America’s art. “Picturing the American Buffalo: George Catlin and Modern Native American Artists” considers the representation of the American buffalo from two perspectives: a selection of paintings by George Catlin (1796–1872) and works by modern Native artists Woody Crumbo, Paul Goodbear, Allan Houser, Julián Martínez, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Fritz Scholder, Awa Tsireh, Thomas Vigil and Beatien Yazz. In the 1830s, Catlin journeyed west five times to record, as he called it, the “manners and customs” of Native cultures, painting scenes and portraits from life. His ambitious project was largely fueled by the fear that American Indians, the great buffalo herds and a way of life would one day vanish. The 20th-century sculpture and works on paper included in this installation advance a narrative reassuringly different from Catlin’s: one of vibrance and continuity. With an innovative use of line, form and color, each work affirms both tribal presence and the enduring importance of the buffalo to American Indian cultures. All 45 works on view are from the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Opening Program – Picturing the American Buffalo: A Conversation
Wednesday, Oct. 30, at 6 p.m., the museum presents a panel discussion with Adam Duncan Harris from the National Museum of Wildlife Art, David Penney from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and Eleanor Harvey from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
“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, American Prairie Reserve, Tania and Tom Evans, Kavar Kerr, Margery and Edgar Masinter, and Maggie and Dick Scarlett.
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Note to editors: Selected high-resolution images for publication only are available through the museum’s Dropbox account. Email AmericanArtPressOffice@si.edu to request the link.
About the Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home to one of the most significant and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and G streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Its Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. Both locations are closed temporarily as a public health precaution to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.