BODMER, Karl (1809-1893)
A skin lodge of an Assiniboin chief
[Vig. 16] Paris, Coblenz and London: [1839-1842]. Hand-coloured aquatint engraving by Salathé and Hurlimann after Bodmer. Blindstamp. (Small repaired tear to left blank margin). Sheet size: 10 7/16 x 13 1/4 inches.
A fine image containing all the essentials a Plains Indian needed or wanted to sustain life. On June 10th 1833, a camp of about twenty five tipis was set up by a band of Assiniboin near Fort Union, at the junction of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. The tipi in the foreground is painted with bear figures: the owner of this tipi was assumed to have strong supernatural powers (an essential for success in battle, or for aid in treating the sick). In front of the tipi the chief's wife loads a travois harnessed to a dog: these elegantly simple constructions consisted of a netted circular platform attached to long poles and were used to transport baggage. A group of three unused travois stand propped to the left of the woman. The chief relaxes against a rolled blanket in the lee of the tipi, shaded from the afternoon sun, bow in hand, watching his wife work. To his left his small son wrestles playfully with one of the other dogs which follow the band. A warrior returns on horse back with news of game or buffalo.
Karl Bodmer's images show great versatility and technical virtuosity and give us a uniquely accomplished and detailed picture of a previously little understood (and soon to vanish) way of life. Swiss-born Bodmer was engaged by Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied (1782-1867) specifically to provide a record of his travels in North America, principally among the Plains Indians. In the company of David Dreidoppel (Prince Maximilian's servant and hunting companion), their travels in North America were to last from 1832 to 1834. Well-armed with information and advice, the party finally left St.Louis, on the most important stage of their travels, aboard the steamer Yellow Stone on April 10 1833. They proceeded up the treacherous Missouri River along the line of forts established by the American Fur Company. At Bellevue they encountered their first Indians, then went on to make contact with the Sioux tribe, learning of and recording their little known ceremonial dances and powerful pride and dignity. Transferring from the Yellow Stone to another steamer, the Assiniboin, they continued to Fort Clark, visiting there the Mandan, Mintari and Crow tribes, then the Assiniboins at Fort Union, the main base of the American Fur Company. On a necessarily much smaller vessel they journeyed through the extraordinary geological scenery of that section of the Missouri to Fort Mackenzie in Montana, establishing a cautious friendship with the fearsome Blackfeet. From this, the westernmost point reached, it was considered too dangerous to continue and the return journey downstream began. The winter brought its own difficulties and discomforts, but Bodmer was still able to execute numerous studies of villages, dances and especially the people, who were often both intrigued and delighted by his work. The portraits are particularly notable for their capturing of individual personalities, as well as forming a primary account of what was to become virtually lost cultures.
Graff 4648; Howes M443a; Pilling 2521; Sabin 47014; Wagner-Camp 76:1.