The Look of Amerindians
Lure of the West, the Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibit now showing at BYU's Museum of Art, includes a painting that may be of special interest to FARMS patrons. Young Omahaw, War Eagle, Little Missouri and Pawneees, by Charles Bird King in 1821, depicts five American Indian chiefs. James D. Horan, writing in The McKenney-Hall Portrait Gallery of American Indians (New York: Bramhall House, 1982), observed that the King painting was one of a large series of paintings commissioned by the U.S. government in the 1820s. Horan's album reproduces most of them and sets their context. These portraits of Amerindian leaders of the eastern, southern, and plains states were painted while they visited Washington, D.C.
Horan notes that this art depicts faces far different from the "Mongoloid" norm assumed or pictured in most textbooks as representing "American Indians." For example, Horan refers to "McIntosh, the handsome Creek who looked like a swarthy-skinned Scots Highland Chief" (p. 122). Other notable examples of European-looking Amerindians (many of them Creeks or Shawnee) can be seen on pages 140, 160, 272, and 318. Today's experts on the Native Americans still have no answer to how such close resemblances to Europeans are to be accounted for. Whether the answer lies in the Book or Mormon or elsewhere, at least the problem suggests that conventional arguments that no voyagers crossed the ocean from the Old to the New World need rethinking. The free exhibit will continue at the Museum of Art until 18 May.