Art of the American West
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Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809–1893),
Piegan Blackfoot Man , 1833
watercolor and graphite on paper, , 12 9/16 x 10 in.
Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.290. 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 did not record the name of this Piegan chief, but perhaps his name appears in this text, in the narrative wrapped around his body.

Perhaps the name is encoded in the exploit robe, which records multiple scenes of a single heroic event. Precise markings of horse hooves and fallen warriors help us read the action as it moves from one scene to the next.

The robe conveys power, beauty, and interdependence: paints extracted from Piegan homelands decorate a luminous elk hide, and the meticulous labor of women appears in the peg holes that once secured the hide while tanning.

The individual brings power to and through the collective. Many stories appear on this robe. And, perhaps, many names.

Beth Piatote
Nez Perce
Author of The Beadworkers: Stories

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