Art of the American West
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Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809–1893),
Piegan Blackfoot Woman , 1833
watercolor and graphite on paper, 17 × 12 1/16 in.
Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.292 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.

Blackfeet cisgender and transgender women have long held crucial economic, social, and religious roles in their communities. One of those roles was as botanists: the Blackfeet used over two hundred plants for medicine, food, and material goods. This expertise is taught from generation to generation. I grew up gathering and preparing medicinal plants using knowledge shared by the elder women in my family, who learned it from their elders. Though Bodmer did not record the name of the woman in this painting, her descendants may use her teachings to this day, as in my own family. Though she is no longer with us, her knowledge could still be very much alive.

Abaki Beck
Blackfeet and Red River Métis
Writer and public health practitioner

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