Friday, December 25, 2009

black hawk for christmas
in april 1832 black hawk began a year and a half that defy easy summary, heavy on the worst of times but with a sprinkling of the best. he had spent nearly 30 years fighting against white encroachment and an 1804 treaty allegedly giving up substantial land. in april he and his entire band recrossed the mississippi to go to those lands. this led to a period of white hysteria that became the ‘black hawk war’. It ended in august with a massacre of men, women and children and black hawk’s eventual capture. the ‘choleric’ winter was spent with 60 of his men including his son in a military post south of st. louis.
by contrast spring was spent in mandatory white man’s clothes headed east to meet andrew jackson and travel with him as his designated defeated indian. by june, 1833, "black hawkania" had swept the country and he was a public hero outshining jackson in various east coast cities. but he was in fact a captive headed back to imprisonment in wisconsin and white outrage greeted him more and more. before 1833 was over he had been formally placed under the authority of his political enemy keokuk and finally allowed to live in iowa until his death 5 years later.
as tiring as this time was for this great man, it turned out that a gift was being created for all of us - a chance to experience black hawk in a way that makes him almost real nearly two centuries later. a wonderful record of black hawk was made in media appropriate to the times, and now available online. a number of artists were given access to black hawk while he was a prisoner. he was able to dictate an autobiography thru a translator named leclair. a biography and numerous shorter publications memorialized his life and the black hawk war. a life mask was cast of him somewhere along the way. he was even subjected in 1838 to a phrenological portrait that was used to analyze him favorably in the questionable science of the times.
the images ranged from black hawk and his people in their own buckskin clothes or 'ribbon shirts, to images of black hawk in military coats, to those picturing him as andrew jackson really wanted in non military black coats. the latter included those who did so respectfully and managed to show his dignity particularly when side by side with his son in traditional garb. the contrast between black hawk in a frock coat and his son was part of what first attracted me to the gilcrease image. some of the images were simply bad art.
so my christmas present for the world today is a slideshow of some 30 images of black hawk with some notes on the images and artists afterwards. my primary thought and perhaps yours in looking at the images is that black hawk remains strong and dignified at 66 whatever he wears. his son remains loyal to him and the similarity between the two is striking. as an afterthought i give you an image of current sac and fox principal chief george thurman, a black hawk descendant with some obvious resemblance to him.

notes - some history of the artists and images in the slide show
george catlin really was good. go to the gilcrease or the smithsonian and you’ll see he went where indians were in the first half of the 19th century, including oklahoma - and he painted them as they were. like other artists he struggled to market what he had - and had a lot of it burned up in a fire at the smithsonian. he also got me personally past my inability to see real people in water colors.
catlin was the first to visit black hawk and portrayed him before he was jacksonized. he also offered an allegedly accurate image of black hawk’s funeral which is included in the slide show. black hawk is pictured sitting upright before a tree with a log wall surrounding him. i have not yet read whether catlin was in fact present at the funeral.
robert sully is the obvious opposite end of the rainbow. there are two images of black hawk here. one from 1833 and one from 1855. the first is political following the jackson symbolism of ‘westernization’ of black hawk. in 1855 he redid the picture obviously lightening black hawk’s skin and literally making him even more ‘an older, more wrinkled warrior’ and more white. quotes from the artist make clear his disrespect and detail his acceptance of the jackson symbolism.
james westhall ford. his image of black hawk, whirling thunder and the prophet has become special to me now because i have been granted a very good copy of it by a representative of the library of virginia.
charles bird king was another special artist of the time. he is perhaps best known for his contributions of water color/lithographs to the mckenney-hall portrait gallery of indians. the images there are consistently of noteworthy indians of the early 19th century apparently accurately shown in their best, only occasionally the jacksonian white man’s clothes. his mckenna hall image showed the ‘ribbon shirt’ image which i mentioned above and I’m not sure when he saw his. but it provided an image not strictly in the jacksonian frock coat which i think is good.
king in fact produced an oil image of black hawk that showed him in a buckskin shirt like catlin had. the original of the work is in a mississippi museum and is duller and black hawk faces left. an available copy is lighter and he faces the other way.
james otto lewis was another artist of the times imbued for a time with an official mission to portray indians of the the then midwest. the result was something he brightly called his ‘aboriginal port-folio’. his originals were also burned in the smithsonian fire so he can only be seen in. he painted black hawk in detroit in 1833 in a high collared blue military jacket sometimes with whirling thunder and the prophet. there are a number of other images in color or black and white which are either seem to be his or based on his works. he is said to have been the original artist for 27 of the 150 prints that were eventually published by mckenney[-hall]
the 1835 boston maybe lewis is a story being worked out as we speak. the image is from a wall in boston or cambridge. the website person where i found it has kindly provided me with three enlarged portions of the work. the first of black hawk’s face is so striking that i put it at the begining of this blog. another shows the name duval and sons of philadelphia as the lithographers; the port-folio was produced by lehman and duval of philadelphia. the blog author suggests that a nearby lincoln portrait may be from a long ignored office of a harvard professor: I suppose this one might be also.

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Blogger Sandy Young said...

Very interesting post about Blackhawk. I am from IL, and have spent many hours in the Quad cities area, so his name is familiar. Thanks for increasing my knowledge of this great man and piquing my interest in learning more.

I came to your blog from Go Ask Alice. I would love to speak with you further about this. You can email me or contact me through my blog,

8/20/10, 8:53 AM  

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