Painting the Wild Frontier

Painting the Wild Frontier Cover

Painting the Wild Frontier

The Art and Adventures of George Catlin

By Susanna Reich

Clarion Books, Hardcover, 9780618714704, 160pp.

Publication Date: August 25, 2008


George Catlin is one of America’s best-known painters, famous for his iconic portraits of Native Americans. He spent much of his life in the wilderness, sketching and painting as he traveled. A solo trek across 500 miles of uncharted prairie, an expedition to the Andes, harrowing encounters with grizzly bears and panthers, and tours of the royal palaces of Europe were among his many adventures. In an era when territorial expansion resulted in the near annihilation of many indigenous cultures, George Catlin dedicated himself to meeting and writing about the native peoples of the western hemisphere. With his Indian Gallery” of paintings and artifacts, he toured the United States and Europe, stirring up controversy and creating a sensation.
Award-winning author Susanna Reich combines excerpts from Catlin’s letters and notes with vivid depictions of his far-flung travels. Generously illustrated with archival prints and photos and Catlin’s own magnificent paintings, here is a rollicking, accessible biography that weaves meticulously researched history into a fascinating frontier and jungle adventure story.

Praise For Painting the Wild Frontier

"Using primary sources, including Catlin's own diaries and letters, Reich helps readers understand the importance of the artist's work and to see him as a man in his own time.  The personal documents expose both selfless and selfish sides of his character.  At times, he was sensitive to the Native peoples and their cultures, but he also used them for his own gain.  Readers also see the artist as a neglectful family man and less-than-successful businessman; however, above all, Catlin is seen as an adventurer.  Many of his paintings illustrate the text and add to a sense of excitement.  A few of the larger reproductions are in color, giving a clearer view of the artist's palette and style.  Other period works are also included.  All are well captioned with additional identification and information that ties in to the text.  Quotations are carefully documented in chapter footnotes.  The author's note explains her choice of terminology and spelling as well as her efforts to avoid cultural bias in writing this book.  This is an excellent choice for libraries looking for good biographies, either for reports or pleasure reading."--School Library Journal, starred review "In following the career of George Catlin, noted nineteenth-century painter of Indian life, Reich successfully performs a delicate balancing act--steering her text between thoughtful art interpretation, comprehensive biography, and kid-pleasing adventure tale, and acknowledging both Catlin's intrusion into and exploitation of Indian cultures and his atypical-for-his-time esteem for the richness of those cultures and the dignity of their leadership.  Readers come away with a judicious view of Catlin as primarily a restless wanderer--far better as a roving artist than a family man--who mustered his considerable talent as a painter for the worthwhile cause of documenting indigenous peoples who seemed to be teetering on the verge or cultural extinction.  While his efforts were valuable, Reich makes it clear that they did not always rise to noble--Catlin certainly wasn't above paying Indians to put on a Barnum-esque performance for European audiences, embellishing the narration at his exhibits, or bulling his way into a sacred Sioux pipestone quarry and swiping a rock sample (catlinite, later named after him).  As one would expect, the title is profusely illustrated, and captioning is concise and helpful.  Unfortunately, only eight paintings appear in color, and they're in an insert removed from proximity to text references.  An author's note addresses problems and decisions regarding translation of Indian names and terms.  An extensive timeline, chapter notes, selected bibliography (by topic and format), and index are also included."--The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books