April 2007 - McKenney & Hall Print Exhibit
McKenney & Hall Print Exhibit
Prints from the History of the Indian Tribes of North America
The McKenney & Hall Native American Art Exhibit will be on display at the CME throughout the month of April.
Click on any of the images below to view them larger.
The close of the American Revolution also marked the end of the American Indians’ influence in America. Whites were already pouring over the Appalachians and incidents between whites and Indians were mounting. Political pragmatists believed that moving the Indians to reservations west of the Mississippi would be the immediate solution to this growing conflict.
For this purpose Indian chiefs and delegations were brought east to be conditioned for the move to reservation land and to sign treaties. No fewer than eighteen treaties were signed in Washington between 1824 and 1838 with a delegation of chiefs and headmen of the tribe or tribes concerned attending each signing. In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which permitted President Andrew Jackson to legally execute the plan for the removal of tribes to federal land.
It was in this climate that Thomas Loraine McKenney (1785-1859) first conceived the idea of developing an official government collection of portraits of prominent Indians who visited Washington. Serving the federal government as Superintendent of Indian Affairs (then under the War Department) from 1824 to 1830 Thomas McKenney hadaprofound understanding and sympathy for the Indians. It was through his efforts that the War Department commissioned prominent Washington portraitist, Charles Bird King (1785-1862), to do the Indian portraits “…preserving the likenesses of some of the most distinguished among this most extraordinary race of people…that this race was about to become extinct, and that a faithful resemblance of the most remarkable among them would be full of interests inafter-times…” as stated by Secretary of War, James Barbour.
The event that spurred McKenney to begin his gallery occurred in the winter of 1821-22. Delegations of the Sauk, Fox, the Pawnee, the Sioux, the Chippewa, the Miami, and the Menominee arrived in Washington to meet with President John Quincy Adams. The tribal leaders dressed for the occasion with painted faces, buffalo-horned headdresses, and other exotic accoutrements. To be sure, these earned astonished stares from virtually all of Washingtonians who saw them. The capital turned out in force to gape at the Indians on New Year’s Day of 1822. At least 6000 spectators marveled as the Indians leaped and chanted a “war dance” on the lawn of the White House itself. President Adams noticed something about the visitors besides their colorful regalia. He later wrote of the chiefs’ “gravity and painful earnestness.”
King painted at least 143 Indian portraits over a twenty-year period including the leaders of at least twenty Indian tribes; principally from the Southeast, Great Lakes region and the Central Great Plains.
These oils hung in the War Department and were to form the basis of the famous Indian Gallery. Perhaps eighty chiefs sketched were from real life sittings while others were copied from original watercolors by James Otto Lewis. All but eighteen of these oils were to be lost during the fire of January 24, 1865, when the Smithsonian building burned; making the subsequent prints all the more valuable as a historical record.
Exactly when McKenney first thought of producing prints after the original oil paintings is not known. It may have been as early as 1822 when he first engaged C.B. King’s services. What is known is that when McKenney was dismissed from office in 1830 he moved to Philadelphia, became a newspaper editor, and began work on what became the basis of the three-volume History of the Indian Tribes of North America.
Freed from his official duties, McKenney devoted the rest of his life (and his personal fortune) to his portrait gallery, his self-described “archive” of the Indians. James Hall, a prominent jurist and writer, became a partner of McKenney’s and spent eight years documenting and writing the biographies of the chiefs.
In 1831, Volume 1 of the Indian Tribes of North America with Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the PrincipalChiefs was published; Volume II came out in 1838, Volume III appeared in 1844.
In a description of his project’s lofty goals, Thomas McKenney revealed a certain sadness as to why he believed his gallery was important: … “it would present images relating to our Aborigines preserved there for the inspection of the curious and for the information of future generations and long after the Indians will have been no more.”
Thanks to his vision the faces of many legendary chiefs of the early 19th century remain with us.
This exhibition is on loan from the Muscatine Art Center, Muscatine, Iowa.
Image Source: www.si.edu/oahp/cbking/CB%20King%20Exhibit.htm