We’re doing brown bag lunches on Tuesdays this summer, so if you are in Joseph at noon on a Tuesday, please stop in and join the conversation. Next week—May 28—we will be talking about Indian treaties, especially the Nez Perce treaties of 1855 and 1863 and the aborted attempt by President Grant to change or rescind the 1863 version.
This week we talked about art—specifically the paintings and drawings by Europeans of American Indians. Mike Rosenbaum, who drove up from La Grande to join us, brought along a few gorgeous art books featuring George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, Paul Kane and others. And on leaving Mike decided that the books should stay here! So a big thanks to him, and an invitation to everyone to take these books down from the shelves and take a look at how early Europeans saw the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Two things have struck me about these European views over months of looking at Josephy books and articles: First, the “first meetings,” in almost all cases, of Europeans and First Peoples (a term used in Canada and one I like) were almost always friendly, and the Europeans often commented on the good qualities, looks, and helpfulness of their hosts. Second, the early drawings and paintings almost always portray the Indians as handsome people, robust and muscular—and often with little clothing so as to accentuate these qualities. I put this together with the state of things in Europe at the time—still in a little ice age, suffering from drought and famine—and have said that the Indians must have looked like gods to the immigrants. At least the ones who escaped smallpox and measles and other infectious diseases. And from there I go to Rousseau and the romantic view of Indians.
But local artist Mike Kolaski joined the conversation, and offered another view. He suggested that we look at what Europeans were painting in Europe at the time—much of the 1600s, and thought that the first art work in the new world reflected the contemporary art work in the old. And, as time moved on and other artists—Bodmer, Catlin, et al—came to the new world or grew up on this side of the pond looking across the sea, the art work became less romantic and more ruggedly realistic, as it was in Europe at the time.
Thanks Mike. Both views, I think, are consistent with what Alvin called the “Eurocentric” treatment of first peoples. It is good to have more ways to think about the same set of images and events. And now we have Alvin’s books and words and the new books donated by Mike Rosenbaum for reference.
Quickly, a couple of additional notes on collections and summer. We got a nice slug of old—1920s-40s—Oregon Historical Quarterly from the Harney County Library, so we are on our way to a full run of that fine journal. We have an index for 1900-1940, and Google has yet to catch up with everything, so come and explore.
Volunteer Bruce Stubblefield has organized our collection of Idaho Yesterdays, and made a short index of articles related to the Nez Perce, so more fertile ground for exploration. Throw in long runs of Montana History, Journal of the West, American West, Kansas Quarterly, and journals from Minnesota, Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada, Missouri, and a handful of other states and it is easy to spend an afternoon checking out old –photos and the detailed kind of research carried on by the historians who kept the West alive, while the writers of textbook histories often ignored it.
Finally, I want to welcome Erik Anderson, a student from Whitman College in nearby Walla Walla, who will be joining us in a few days as a summer intern. He’ll get to pick some of his projects, but cataloging books and putting these historical journals into a data base you can use will be a big part of it.
Finally finally—we are not a circulating library, but we do have extra copies of some Josephy material which we are loaning out, and we are happy to make copies of other materials and get them to you by mail or email. Loaner copies of 500 Nations, The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, 1492, many of the American Heritage hardback magazines with Josephy articles can be checked out for two week periods.