George Catlin and the Indian guide, covered in wolf skins and with weapons at the ready, creep up on a herd of buffalo. The artist painted several versions of this theme, inspired by his lament that “the poor buffaloes have their enemy man, besetting and besieging them at all times of the year and in all the modes that man … has been able to devise for their destruction. They struggle in vain to evade his deadly shafts … While the herd of buffaloes are together, they seem to have little dread of the wolf, and allow them to come in close company with them. The Indian then has taken advantage of this fact, and often places himself under the skin of this animal, and crawls for half a mile or more on his hands and knees, until he approaches within a few rods of the unsuspecting group, and easily shoots down the fattest of the throng.”
George Catlin painted ominous, swirling clouds of black smoke that loom out of the distance and drive the Indians before them. The artist was an eyewitness to such terrifying events, and described the fire’s “thunder rumbling as it goes.” But he also wrote that prairie fires made for “some of the most beautiful scenes that are to be witnessed in this country, and also some of the most sublime.”
In 1832, George Catlin witnessed a dramatic ritual at Fort Union, two thousand miles northwest of St. Louis. According to the artist, the medicine man began the healing by administering roots and herbs. If this failed, he would try “shaking his frightful rattles, and singing songs of incantation.” Catlin wrote that the medicine man’s clothing often consisted of “the skins of snakes, and frogs, and bats,—-beaks and tows and tails of birds,—-hoofs of deer, goats, and antelopes,” each possessing “anomalies or deformities,” which gave them their healing power. This healer wore the skin of a yellow bear attached with the hides of snakes. Catlin actually owned the costume, and he sometimes wore it to enhance the spectacle of his Indian Gallery.
Fragment of a pile carpet, India, Mughal, ca. 1600
“This fragment is one of about fifteen preserved from two large carpets that are presumed to have been made for the court of the Great Mughal Akbar. Each of them measured c. 960 × 380 cm. A grotesque, almost nightmarish world of animals and mythical creatures devouring one another is seen against a wine-red ground and between flowers and vases with bouquets.
The motif is not Islamic, but it is found in other Mughal art and was rooted in the local Hindu art tradition. Pile carpets, in contrast, came to India from the north with the Muslims, and fragments from the two carpets are presumably among the oldest that exist from the Indian subcontinent.”