Exclusions

As the Introduction explored, most of the artwork involving American Indians in the Capitol is part of the following paradigm: either the Indian figure is a Noble Savage, doomed to a sad but necessary extinction, or an Ignoble Savage, whose muderous bloodthirst dooms him to a swift and justified extinction. Fryd asserts that this was not an accidental rendering; instead, it was carefully planned to create a visual narrative whose iconography uphold the dominant ideology: that of white America of the nineteenth-century, devoted to ideals of expansion and Manifest Destiny:

Besides the noble and ignoble Vanishing Ameircan that prevailed in nineteenth-century American literature, visual arts, and rhetoric, there was yet a third, seemingly ethnographic Indian who is not evident in the Capitol decoration. That the ommission of this type was not accidental is clear from the cases of three artists--George Catlin, Seth Eastman, and John Mix Stanley-- who attempted to sell their works to the federal government (only Eastman succeded) . These artist-naturalists traveled through the western frontier in order to capture on canvas he first Americans in their untainted environments. They documented for posterity the traditions, clothings, likenesses, and rituals of what they perceived as a doomed race, making slight adjustments to appeal to white urban audiences. (163)

Although the story of any of these three artists would satisfactorily illustrate Fryd's point, George Catlin's prolonged failed attempts to have the federal government commission his work is an excellent example. He is perhaps the most famous artist of the three mentioned, and his Indian Gallery is well known and praised for semi-realistic representations of plains Indian culture. He first traveled into the frontier in 1830, and "explored the wilderness between the Mississippi and the Rockies, making sketches and oils of the native people he observed. From 1837 to 1852, Catlin exhibited this Indian Gallery--a collection of artifacts, more than four hundred paintings, and thousands of sketches--which opened to large audiences both in this country and abroad" (Fryd 163).

Most of Catlin's artwork is one of two types: individual figures, or views of groups and rituals. Fryd comments, "Whether portrait or ritual scenes, Catlin's paintings depict actual people (often embellished via costumes and paraphernalia) as stain[s] on a painter's palette so that they could emerge, as Catlin explained, 'phoenix-like...and live again upon canvass and stand forth for centuries yet to come, the living monuments of a noble race'" (165). "Catlin was influenced by the example set by Charles byrd King, whose portraits of Indians had been comissioned by Thomas L. McKenney, superintendent of the Indian Trade Bureau (1816-1822) and head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (1824-1830), to decorate his office. Catlin probably thought his collection would supplememt Mckenney’s ‘archives,’ as the agent called his collection, and hence petitioned the federal government for the first time, between 1837 and 1840, for a comission. Again in the mid-1840s, in 1852, and in 1860, Catlin lobbied for a commission, as did his family (after the artists’ death in 1872 and 1873” (166). "As a result, various congressment submitted resolutions that directed different committees ( an issue of debate throughout) to acquire Catlin’s collection, beginning on May 28, 1838m when George Nixon Briggs, a Whig from Massachusetts, introdyced A resolution in the House ordering the Committee to consider acquiring Catlin’s Indian portraits. During the next session, Briggs moved in the House a second resolution for the purchase of catrlin’s collection, t was refferred to the Committee on Indian Affiars, which reported unanimously in favor of the proposal, but again Congress took no action, A third resolution, similar to the second but dorected to the Committee on the Library, died in the House in 1840.” (167) "Catlin himself interpreted Congress’s failure to purchase his Indian collection earlier, in the 1830s, as part of what he considered the Jackson administration’s conspiracy against the Indians, which removed "all the southern tribes of Indians west of the Mississippi River, that their two hundred and fifty millions of rich cotton lands might be covered with slave laborers.” "two failry accurate reports if Indian chiefs were commissioned and completed during this period for the Senate Indian Committe room. Aysh-Ke-Bah-Ke-Ko-Zhay and Beeshekee, by the Italisn artist Francis Vincenti, represent two Pillager Chippewas who went to Washington to sign treaties with the comissioner of Indian affairs, forfeiting lands in Wisconsin and Minnesota and agreeing to move onto reservations. These two busts slipped through congressional opposition to ethnographic renditions because Meigs asked Vincenti to render the two busts in preparation for his work in carving Crawford’s pediment. Consequently, Meigs did not view these busts as works of art in their own right but as models for Crawford’s more negative Indian renditions” (170).