Art of the American West
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Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809–1893),
Mató-Tópe, Mandan Chief , 1834
watercolor and graphite on paper, 16 1/2 × 11 11/16 in.
Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.383. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019
Faces from the Interior: The North American Portraits of Karl Bodmer, is the first Museum project to focus on Bodmer’s watercolor portraits of Indigenous people painted in 1833–34. Numerous Indigenous artists, scholars, and elders from communities that Karl Bodmer and Prince Maximilian visited contributed texts to the exhibition that examine the ongoing challenges and significances of these images of cultural encounter. The exhibition was organized by the Margre H. Durham Center for Western Studies, Joslyn Art Museum, in association with the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mató-Tópe, the celebrated Mandan war chief, lived two centuries ago. His legacy and exploits are still spoken of today. His life is a source of pride and inspiration to his descendants, personifying the Mandan people. His portraits display his spirituality, bravery, and leadership. Less obvious in the images is his great love of family, generosity, and worldliness. He believed his way of life was worth fighting for. His descendants aspire to do the same. Family stories tell us Mató-Tópe did not die at his village during the smallpox outbreak, but rather that he recovered enough to ride off, never to be seen again. His descendants thank him and honor him by retelling his stories. We believe he lives on in all of us.

David S. Christensen
Grandchild of Mató-Tópe

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