Seth Eastman: A Portfolio of North American Indians

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9780963933843: Seth Eastman: A Portfolio of North American Indians

The foremost pictorial historian of the American Indian in the nineteenth century, Seth Eastman was a career army officer and talented artist widely appreciated today for his ethnographic detail. Assigned to frontier duty, including a seven-year stint at Fort Snelling in the 1840s, Eastman set out to preserve a visual record of Indian life which was then undergoing rapid change.
Enabled by his long-term military residency among the Indians to become familiar not only with their colorful external trappings but with the whole complex fabric of Indian culture, Eastman painted all of the commonplace activities of everyday Indian life. His portfolio included scenes of winter villages and temporary summer encampments; courting and marriage customs; Indians making maple sugar, protecting their cornfields from birds, spearing fish, and gathering wild rice; the menstrual lodge, the manner in which Dakota women sat, and the medicine man with a patient; and the breaking up of camp and Indians traveling.
The Hill Collection contains fifty-six paintings the artist prepared mainly for Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's monumental six-volume work, Information Regarding the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States (1851-1857).

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This book about Indians is also the story of watercolorist Seth Eastman (1808^-75) and industrialist James J. Hill (1838^-1916). Assigned to Fort Snelling on what, in the early 1800s, was the frontier, Eastman captured the daily lives of the Ojibway and Dakota peoples in expressive works on paper that Hill later collected and housed in the library he established in St. Paul. The accompanying essays concentrate on the two white men, but the book's reproductions constitute an entirely different work. In them we see not the romanticizations of Indian life so many artists of the period give us, but the real lives of those people as they gather rice, fish through the ice, mourn their dead, and heal their sick. The drawing of a young woman serenely sitting, in the distinctively modest way of Ojibway women of the era, in the shade of a menstrual lodge while her village bustles in the background exemplifies the precious documentation Eastman made. Pleasingly composed and delicately colored, Eastman's works emphasize the ways of a people whose collective life would soon be radically changed. Patricia Monaghan

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