After premiering at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in April, an exhibition of Karl Bodmer's portraits of Indigenous people has arrived at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, and then will continue on to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth, TX.) in fall 2022.
During the early 1830s, a dynamic network of Native American nations—largely unknown to non-Native people beyond trappers and traders—inhabited the Upper Plains region of North America. The Swiss draftsman Karl Bodmer (1809— 1893) was one of the first European artist—observers to create a visual record of these communities‘ leaders, lifeways, and homelands.
Hired by the German naturalist Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, Bodmer accompanied a scientific expedition from Saint Louis to the northwestern reaches of the Missouri River, a round trip of nearly five thousand miles, between April 1833 and May 1834. Intending to reveal what Maximilian called “the natural face of North America," Bodmer produced
numerous portraits of Indigenous people that record the lives of specific individuals. They also evidence the complexity of cultural encounters at a time when Euro-American settler colonization introduced disease, depleted natural resources, and led to the forcible removal of Indigenous people from their homelands.
Faces from the Interior: The North American Portraits of Karl Bodmer, on view now through May 1, 2022 at Joslyn (and in a virtual tour), features over sixty recently conserved watercolors, drawn entirely from Joslyn's renowned Maximilian-Bodmer collection. This includes portraits of individuals from the Omaha, Ponca, Yankton, Lakota, Mandan, Hidatsa, Assiniboine, and Blackfoot nations, among the many encountered by the travelers. A selection of Bodmer‘s Missouri River landscapes and field sketches, as well as portraits made by the Mandan man Sih—Chida (Yellow Feather) and prominent Mandan chief
Mato- Tope (Four Bears), reveal the dynamic cultural exchanges that characterized artistic production of this era.
Bodmer‘s acute sensitivity of observation and his subtle, refined brush work provide an unparalleled level of detail that make these portraits particularly captivating. These details matter; every beaded design, carefully arranged feather, and painted robe carries meaning and tells a story. Indigenous knowledge bearers, artists, and scholars from the nations
that Bodmer and Maximilian visited have contributed texts for this exhibition that highlight the diverse histories, beliefs, and practices embodied in the portraits.
Faces from the Interior additionally premieres four short films—contemporary portraits that testify to the enduring power of Bodmer‘s images. Personal stories shared in these films illuminate generations of Indigenous teachings that bridge historical and contemporary featherwork and beadwork, dancing, tribal histories, and traditional ecological knowledge.
An exhibition catalogue is available.