Joslyn Art Museum opens 'Faces from the Interior: The North American Portraits of Karl Bodmer'

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Joslyn Art Museum opens 'Faces from the Interior: The North American Portraits of Karl Bodmer'
Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809–1893), Interior of a Mandan Earth Lodge, 1833–34, watercolor and graphite on paper, 11 7/16 in. × 17 in., Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.261.A. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019.

OMAHA, NE.- 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, on view October 2, 2021–May 1, 2022 at Joslyn, 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 additionally premieres four short films—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. Joslyn Art Museum gratefully acknowledges the participation and generosity of exhibition contributors and film participants.

Exhibition text contributors include:

• Gerard Baker, Yellow Wolf, Mandan/Hidatsa, Assistant Director, American Indian Relations, National Park Service (retired)

• Aaron Bird Bear, Mandan Hidatsa and Diné; citizen of Three Affiliated Tribes, Tribal Relations Director, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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

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

• Dakota Hoska, Oglála Lakȟota, Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Assistant Curator of Native Arts, Denver Art Museum

• Frank Buffalo Hyde, Onondaga Nation, Beaver Clan, Artist

• David S. Christensen, Mandan/Hidatsa, Grandchild of Mató-Tópe

• Judi Gaiashkibos, Ponca Tribal Member, Descendent of Schuh-De-Gá-Che (Smokemaker)

• Nancy Gillis, Eastern Cherokee and Choctaw descent, Independent historian and retired instructor of Native Studies; Former Executive Director, John G. Niehardt Historic Site

• Jessa Rae Growing Thunder, Fort Peck Assiniboine/Sioux (Sisituwan/Wahpetuwan/Hohe), Traditional artist, beadwork/quillwork art historian

• Joe D. Horse Capture, A’aniiih, Vice President of Native Collections and the Ahmanson Curator of Native American History and Culture, Autry Museum of the American West

• Dwight Howe, Cultural Guidance Counselor, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska

• Zig Jackson, Buffalo Getting up in the Grass (Rising Buffalo), Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, Professor Fine Arts, Photography, Savannah College of Art & Design

• Wynema Morris, Omaha Tribal Member, Adjunct Professor of Native American Studies, Nebraska Indian
Community College

• Beth Piatote, Nez Perce, Author of The Beadworkers: Stories

• Xavier Webster, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, Umóⁿhoⁿ Nation Public Schools student (mobile tour only)

Film participants include:

• Gerard Baker (Mandan-Hidatsa)
• Michael Barthelemy (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation
• Justin Deegan (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation)
• Barbara McKillip Erixson (Omaha Tribe of Nebraska)
• Jessa Rae Growing Thunder (Sisituwan/Wahpetuwan/Hohe)
• Joyce Growing Thunder (Sisituwan/Wahpetuwan/Hohe)
• Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty (Sisituwan/Wahpetuwan/Hohe)
• Tracy Mitchell (Omaha Tribe of Nebraska)
• Lani Moran-Samqua (Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Rosebud Sioux)
• Wynema Morris (Omaha Tribal Member)
• Izzy Tamayo (Lakota)
• Steve Tamayo (Sicangu Lakota)
• Up Stream Singers (singing and drum group)
• Jennifer YoungBear (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation)

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