Saturday, May 09, 2009

George Catlin: Painter of Indian Life by Richard Worth

I am currently reading Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier by Lea VanderVelde. In this book, the author tells about a young slave named Harriet in the employ of the Indian agent at Fort Snelling in the territory that later became Minnesota. The time is the 1830s. It is remarkable that many people whose names are remembered in history passed through the remote outpost in the few years that Harriet was there. In addition to many Indian chiefs and warriors, military officers, and agents of the American Fur Company, there were the explorer Joseph Nicollet and the painter George Catlin. Because the settlement was small and her master entertained most of the important visitors, Harriet saw and probably cooked for most of them. It was there that she met and married Dred Scott, whose name is also remembered.

The figure that most interests me is George Catlin. Bonnie and I saw a collection of his paintings at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum when we were in Washington for the American Library Association Conference in 2007. When I saw George Catlin: Painter of Indian Life by Richard Worth on our children's new book display, I had to borrow it.

I am impressed by how much more honest children's biographies are now than when I was a child in the 1960s. Then the purpose of most juvenile biographies was to present glowing examples of good people for young minds to absorb. Rarely was anything disagreeable ever mentioned. In George Catlin: Painter of Indian Life, Richard Worth does still make a case for the painter having lived a significant life, but he includes evidence of Catlin's darker side - selfishness, unreasonable behavior, and neglect of his family. Readers realize that Catlin never really enjoyed his success, wanting something more in life that never materialized. We usually did not learn such things when I was a kid.

Though only eighty pages, George Catlin: Painter of Indian Life includes a good representation of Catlin's paintings, a map of his expeditions, a timeline of his life, and an account of the painter's life that has enough detail to satisfy an adult reader. This book aimed at grades 6-9 is part of the Show Me America series, which also includes books about John Turnball, Mathew Brady, Lewis Hine, and Corothea Lange, all painters or photographers.

Worth, Richard. George Catlin: Painter of Indian Life. Sharpe Focus, 2008. ISBN 9780765681522

1 comment:

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