Art of the American West
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Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809–1893),
Mexkemáuastan, Gros Ventre Chief , 1833
watercolor and graphite on paper, 16 9/16 × 11 1/4 in.
Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.391. 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.

Maximilian was hesitant to meet Mexkemáuastan (Iron That Moves/Stirring Iron) and the A’aniiih (Gros Ventre), whose reputation as fierce warriors preceded them. The gun trade created havoc for the A’aniiih; after they burned down two forts to cut off the supply chain, they were forced to relocate to northcentral present-day Montana. Here, Mexkemáuastan holds an encased rifle and wears a bow and quiver case. The topknot probably signifies that he was a Holy Man, possibly a keeper of one of the A’aniiih’s sacred works. His face paint reinforces that perspective. Reproductions of Mexkemáuastan’s portrait can be found on the walls of many A’aniiih homes today. There are few early nineteenth-century images of the A’aniiih, so Bodmer’s watercolors provide a way to visually connect to the Ancestors while reminding us to fight for our People by practicing our traditional ways.

Joe D. Horse Capture
Vice President of Native Collections and the Ahmanson Curator of Native American History and Culture, Autry Museum of the American West

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