Faces from the Interior: The North American Portraits of Karl Bodmer
10/2/2021 - 5/1/2022

During the early 1830s, a dynamic network of Native American nations—largely unknown to non-Native people beyond trappers and traders—inhabited the Upper Plains region of North America. The Swiss draftsman Karl Bodmer (1809–1893) was one of the first European artist-observers to create a visual record of these communities’ leaders, lifeways, and homelands. Hired by the German naturalist Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, Bodmer accompanied a scientific expedition from Saint Louis to the northwestern reaches of the Missouri River, a round trip of nearly five thousand miles, between April 1833 and May 1834. Intending to reveal what Maximilian called “the natural face of North America,” Bodmer produced numerous portraits of Indigenous people that record the lives of specific individuals. They also evidence the complexity of cultural encounters at a time when Euro-American settler colonization introduced disease, depleted natural resources, and led to the forcible removal of Indigenous people from their homelands.

Faces from the Interior: The North American Portraits of Karl Bodmer features over sixty recently conserved watercolors, drawn entirely from Joslyn’s renowned Maximilian-Bodmer collection. This includes portraits of individuals from the Omaha, Ponca, Yankton, Lakota, Mandan, Hidatsa, Assiniboine, and Blackfoot nations, among the many encountered by the travelers. A selection of Bodmer’s Missouri River landscapes and field sketches, as well as portraits made by the Mandan man Síh-Chidä (Yellow Feather) and prominent Mandan chief Mató-Tópe (Four Bears), reveal the dynamic cultural exchanges that characterized artistic production of this era. Bodmer’s acute sensitivity of observation and his subtle, refined brushwork provide an unparalleled level of detail that make these portraits particularly captivating. These details matter; every beaded design, carefully arranged feather, and painted robe carries meaning and tells a story. Indigenous knowledge bearers, artists, and scholars from the nations that Bodmer and Maximilian visited have contributed texts for this exhibition that highlight the diverse histories, beliefs, and practices embodied in the portraits.

Faces from the Interior premieres four short films (below)—contemporary portraits that testify to the enduring power of Bodmer’s images. Personal stories shared in these films illuminate generations of Indigenous teachings that bridge historical and contemporary featherwork and beadwork, dancing, tribal histories, and traditional ecological knowledge. Additionally, 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. Joslyn Art Museum gratefully acknowledges the participation and generosity of exhibition contributors and film participants.

The exhibition’s accompanying catalogue is the first publication to focus on Bodmer as a portraitist. Catalogue essays examine Bodmer’s artistic practice within the context of nineteenth-century ethnography; the international dissemination of his images; and the ongoing significance of his work to Indigenous communities. Over fifty watercolor portraits are reproduced, accompanied by a selection of the artist’s landscapes and village sites.

Faces from the Interior was organized by the Margre H. Durham Center for Western Studies, Joslyn Art Museum, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY). In Spring 2021, the exhibition was one of the first rotating installations to complement The Met’s new installation of The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of Native American Art. After Joslyn, the exhibition travels to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth, TX; October 29, 2022–January 22, 2023).



What's Pictured Above: Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809–1893), Chan-Chä-Uiá-Te-Üinn, Lakota Sioux Woman, 1833, watercolor and graphite on paper, 17 1/8 × 11 7/8 in., Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.246. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019

Exhibition Mobile Tour
Free Wi-Fi is available in all Joslyn galleries. Enhance your exhibition experience with the Faces from the Interior bilingual digital tours; transcript available in the website options.

Mobile Tour: in person, using your mobile device
    English phone number (402) 881-3601 (Spanish tour coming in November!) or joslyn.org > Mobile Tours.

Virtual Tour:
from afar, using your computer

Presented by Joslyn and OnCell. Special thanks to 91.5 KIOS-FM.

Exhibition Tickets, Hours, and Visitor Information
Faces from the Interior is a ticketed exhibition:
  • $10 for general public adults
  • $5 for college students with ID
  • FREE for youth ages 17 and younger
  • FREE for Joslyn Members. Not a member? Join today!

Exhibition Hours:

Faces from the Interior is open during all regular Museum hours (Wednesday–Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm)*, October 2, 2021–May 1, 2022

*The exhibition is open 10 am to 8 pm on Fridays, January 7, February 4, March 4, and April 1

Exhibition-Related Events and Programs in 2022:

Saturday, February 12; 2 pm

Friday, April 1; 7 pm (cash bar @ 5 pm)

Saturday, April 2

Explore portrait drawing classes for kids, teens, and adults.

Docent-guided public tours of the exhibition are offered on selected Saturdays and Sundays at 1 pm. Details in the Calendar of Events.

Indigenous Matriarchy: A New Balcony Gallery Installation
Opening in November, an installation curated by Joslyn intern Alexandrea Walker examines Indigenous matriarchy beyond the stereotypical images of the “Indian Princess” and “squaw.”