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Exhibition of works by Frederick Weygold on view at the Speed Art Museum
Frederick Weygold (American, 1870-1941), Pictographic Painted Shirt, Frankfurt, 1902. Watercolor, brush and black ink, and graphite on paper. Gift of Frederick Weygold.

LOUISVILLE, KY.- The Speed Art Museum’s latest major exhibition, Picturing American Indian Cultures: The Art of Kentucky’s Frederick Weygold, opened to the public Saturday, January 7 at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville. This unique exhibition features over 180 paintings, drawings, and photographs by Louisville artist and ethnographer Frederick Weygold (1870-1941), as well as highlights from the Speed’s American Indian collection.

“Although Weygold’s work as an illustrator, photographer, and collector of American Indian art is highly regarded in Europe, he remains virtually unknown in the United States,” said Kim Spence, Speed Art Museum Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. This exhibition offers for the first time a comprehensive account of this remarkable man and his achievements as an artist, collector, educator, and social activist.

Highlights of the exhibition include a dramatic, full-length eagle feather bonnet or headdress, a catlinite pipe bowl and stem purported to have belonged to the renowned Sauk leader Black Hawk, an elaborate Lakota warrior’s dress ensemble that includes a beaded and painted shirt and accessories, examples of Weygold’s meticulous drawings of Plains and Woodlands Indian art, and rare photographs of Native American subjects.

“In addition to offering new insights into familiar favorites from our American Indian collection,” added Spence, “this exhibition also features examples of Weygold’s paintings and drawings that have rarely been shown publicly. Visitors to the exhibition will have the singular opportunity to see paintings that have been in private collections since the artist’s death in 1941 and highlights from an extensive collection of over 1500 drawings and watercolors owned by the Speed.”

Born in St. Charles, Missouri, Weygold studied art and languages in Germany at the University of Strasbourg and at the art academies in Karlsruhe and Stuttgart before settling in Louisville in 1908. In Europe (perhaps triggered by visits to Wild West shows), Weygold became fascinated with American Indians and, by teaching himself the Lakota language and acquiring a substantial knowledge of Native American cultures, he acted as an advisor to European museum directors.

In 1909, Weygold traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, acquiring Native American artifacts for the Museum of Ethnology in Hamburg, Germany, and documenting in photographs Native American life and culture, including the first photographic record of the Plains Indian sign language. He later used his ethnographic expertise to illustrate two books by the Dakota author Charles Eastman and two others by James Willard Schultz for a German publisher.

“Over time, Weygold built a personal collection of Native American artifacts that he later donated to the Speed,” said Spence. “These artifacts form the core of the museum’s Native American collection.”

Through his knowledge of the Lakota and Plains Indian sign languages, coupled with his forthright honesty and sincere respect for American Indian cultures, Weygold gained the trust and respect of many of the Lakotas he met who were travelling with Wild West shows in Europe and Philadelphia, and later on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Included among these were Shot In The Eye (a Lakota warrior who fought under Chief Red Cloud and American Horse in the Indian wars of the 1860s and 1870s), Hump (an old warrior and bison hunter who adhered to traditional ways after tribes were relocated onto reservations), and Short Bull (a prophet of the Ghost Dance, a religious movement that became wide-spread in the Plains region during the late 1800s). Through this mutual respect, Weygold convinced these men and others to share with him their knowledge of the meaning, use, and significance of the objects he documented in his drawings and watercolor studies, as well as insights into important religious rituals such as the Hunka, Haŋbleceya, and Yuwipi ceremonies.

"This exhibition strives to renew the memory of an unusual man, whom his Lakota friends called ‘One Tongue’—a man without the proverbial forked tongue of the White Man,” said guest curator Dr. Christian Feest.

In addition to highlighting Weygold’s interest in American Indian art and culture, the exhibition also explores other facets of the artist’s career, including his depictions of My Old Kentucky Home, Cherokee Park, and Cumberland Falls. It also examines his role as a public educator, an early advocate of American Indian rights, and his support of women’s rights and nature conservation.

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