Art of the American West
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Karl Bodmer ( Swiss, 1809–1893),
Omaha Boy , 1833
watercolor and graphite on paper, 10 7/8 × 7 7/8 in.
Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.372. 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.

Omaha Boy reflects much love and pride by the child’s doting family. He is well dressed and wears a made-just-for-him small quillwork or metal bracelet on his chubby wrist. A soft, downy eagle feather, metal earrings, and red paint signify his family’s status. Around him he wears a softly tanned and warm buffalo robe. Omaha Man, in contrast, bears the marks of recent grief. Loose-hanging hair, no distinct facial markings, carelessly draped cloth blanket, and a vacant expression tell the story. His uniquely Omaha moccasins with large instep flaps, made from single pieces of soft, resilient leather, also remain unadorned. Yet he stands straight and tall, signifying his inner strength.

Wynema Morris
Omaha Tribal Member
Adjunct Professor of Native American Studies, Nebraska Indian Community College

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