Art of the American West
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Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809–1893),
Tukán-Hätón, Yankton Sioux Chief , 1833
watercolor and graphite on paper, 10 15/16 × 8 3/4 in.
Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.259. 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.

My ancestors lived in a world imbued with meaning. Every element in their environment presented some meaning that went deeper than what the surface level transmitted. My ancestors’ worldview placed them as a people within that environment, related to all else. So, too, their bodies conveyed meaning. The tattoos on Tukán-Hätón’s (Horned Rock’s) chest tell the story of deeds he has done in battle. His shorn hair tells that he has recently lost a loved one, and is in mourning. To his contemporaries, these signs and symbols conveyed an immediate understanding about his life, his story. To present-day viewers, they convey a glimpse into a world and meaning that, while long past, still lives on through us, its relatives.

Gabriel Bruguier, Ph.D.
Yankton Sioux Tribe
Education and Outreach Coordinator
Mid-America Transportation Center
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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