MONA’s 19th Century Images of Pawnee

June 16 – July 19, 2009 —

The Museum of Nebraska Art is proud to showcase a selection of images, some newly acquired, drawn from its permanent collection that features depictions of Pawnee by 19th century artists.

Some of the artists traveled the Plains recording what they saw and the people they met. In one instance, however, accomplished portrait painter Charles Bird King was commissioned to do the portraits of notable Indian chiefs who traveled to Washington, D.C. to discuss and sign treaties. He recorded these prominent personages away from their native lands and way of life, representing them with noble dignity and strong character. His paintings were later rendered by various master printmakers as handcolored lithographs and published between 1836 and 1844 under the title History of the Indian Tribes of North America by Thomas McKenney and James Hall. Three important Pawnee – Pes-Ke-Le-Cha-Co, A Pawnee Chief; Shar-I-Tar-ish, A Pawnee Chief; and Petalesharow, A Pawnee Brave – were among the Native Americans whom King portrayed. MONA has recently acquired the images of these three chiefs and introduces them through these 19th century lithographs to the Museum’s audience.

Another artist, Englishman Arthur Boyd Houghton, traveled in Nebraska during the 1870s, assembling a singular visual record of Pawnee culture near Genoa, Nebraska, during his stay in that vicinity. His illustrations were printed in the British newspaper The Graphic, a publication noted for its quality wood engravings of American western scenes.

William Henry Jackson is remembered for his American landscape photography and, in particular, for his astonishing images that persuaded the U. S. Government to designate Yellowstone the nation’s first national park. As he aged, his artistic medium turned to painting – often inspired by his earlier photographs. MONA’s collection includes two Jackson works of the same subject – both titled Pawnee Indian Village; one is a photograph and the other is a painting likely created many years later from the photograph.

While the names of the artists are lost to us for two other works, they nonetheless memorialize these 19th century Pawnee, and create a bridge to us in the 21st century.