Seth Eastman and Ojibwe

The Ojibwe, Anishinaabe or Chippewa are the second-largest population among First Nations of Canada.  In the United States, they have the fourth-largest population among Native American tribes. The Ojibwe dominated their traditional enemies, the Lakota and Fox and the Sioux.  By the end of the 18th century, they controlled nearly all of present-day Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and Minnesota. They also controlled the entire northern shores of lakes Huron and Superior on the Canadian side. The Ojibwe allied with the French against Great Britain and its colonists in the Seven Years’ War and the French and Indian War.  Hoping to protect them against settler’s encroachment on their territory they sided with the British against the United States in the War of 1812.   Following this war the United States government tried to forcibly remove all of the Ojibwe to Minnesota.

Dakota Encampment by Seth Eastman,1850   Credit:  Minnesota Digital Library; Nicollet County
Dakota Encampment by Seth Eastman,1850 Credit: Minnesota Digital Library; Nicollet County

Seth Eastman was a soldier artist. After graduating from West Point he was transferred to Fort Snelling, the country’s northernmost frontier post in Minnesota. Consumed by an unquenchable passion to preserve for posterity the customs of a race he thought to be dying, Captain Eastman was amassing an amazing portfolio of paintings of Indian life.   Living among the Indians, Eastman became fluent in their language and familiarized himself with the whole complex fabric of their culture.

While he was stationed at Fort Snelling Eastman married a 15 year old Indian girl, the daughter of Cloud Man, a Dakota chief.  In 1832 he left for another military assignment soon after the birth of their baby girl, Winona (also known as Mary Nancy Eastman).  He declared this first tribally sanctioned marriage ended when he left.  In 1835 when Eastman returned to West Point he married his second wife, Mary Henderson.   Eastman, his new wife and five children returned to Fort Snelling for the next seven years visually recording the life of the Dakota and Ojibwa people.  In 1850 Eastman gained recognition for producing 300 illustrations that were published in a six volume series about the life of the American Indian.

Indian Sugar Camp by Seth Eastman,1853 Credit:  Newberry Library, Chicago/Getty Images

Indian Sugar Camp by Seth Eastman,1853 Credit: Newberry Library, Chicago/Getty Images

A seasonal activity specific to the Woodlands-based Ojibwe people, the image depicts the tapping of maple trees by Anishinaabe women with spiles for sap, and the subsequent boiling down of the sap to produce maple sugar. Eastman adds a traditional birch bark home (wigwam) for anthropological interest. Anishinaabe people participate in the traditional annual manufacture of maple sugar to this day.

Tanning Buffalo Skin by Captain Seth Eastman   Credit:  Newberry Library, Chicago Bridgeman Art Library
Tanning Buffalo Skin by Captain Seth Eastman
Credit: Newberry Library, Chicago
Bridgeman Art Library
Gathering Wild Rice by Captain Seth Eastman, 1853  Credit:  Newberry Library, Chicago Bridgeman Art Library
Gathering Wild Rice by Captain Seth Eastman, 1853
Credit: Newberry Library, Chicago
Bridgeman Art Library

Eastman’s peaceful, hardworking figures show a more realistic view of the lives of American Indian women.

Seth Eastman’s print depicting group of Dakota women playing a traditional gambling game circa 1850 called Plum Stones.  Credit:  Minnesota Historical Society,
Seth Eastman’s print depicting group of Dakota women playing a traditional gambling game circa 1850 called Plum Stones. Credit: Minnesota Historical Society,

This game is accompanied by songs and playful mocking while betting on which colors the thrown stones will show, and continues to be played during pow-wows and other tribal get-togethers.

Eastman retired from active duty at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was brevetted brigadier general in 1866 and in 1867 served on modified assignment in Washington, D.C., where he was commissioned to paint scenes of American Indians and United States forts for the Capitol.

Eastman died of a stroke while painting at his home in Washington, D.C., on August 31, 1875.

The Minnesota Historical Society has excellent examples of Dakota and Ojibwe crafts.  Here’s just a sampling:

Dakota man’s War Honors Shirt overlaid with beaded shoulder bands, sleeve bands, and triangular neckline bibs, all edged with white ermine pelts and both natural and dyed horsehair. made by a Plains woman  ca. 1875  Credit:  Minnesota Historical Society
Dakota man’s War Honors Shirt overlaid with beaded shoulder bands, sleeve bands, and triangular neckline bibs, all edged with white ermine pelts and both natural and dyed horsehair. made by a Plains woman ca. 1875 Credit: Minnesota Historical Society

 

Among the many beautiful objects made for everyday use are origami-like folded and sewn birch bark containers called makuk. Used for the storage of food, money, and other small items, these baskets can be intricately engraved.  This makak has a rectangular base and an oval mouth with slanting sides. It is made from a single piece of bark with the red side of the bark on the exterior and the white on the interior. The container is sewn together at the ends using a row of bark strip stitches. The rim is reinforced with a wood strip sewn on with bark fiber strips. The exterior sides are decorated with geometric patterns created by scraping the red bark when wet.
Among the many beautiful objects made for everyday use are origami-like folded and sewn birch bark containers called makuk. Used for the storage of food, money, and other small items, these baskets can be intricately engraved. This makak has a rectangular base and an oval mouth with slanting sides. It is made from a single piece of bark with the red side of the bark on the exterior and the white on the interior. The container is sewn together at the ends using a row of bark strip stitches. The rim is reinforced with a wood strip sewn on with bark fiber strips. The exterior sides are decorated with geometric patterns created by scraping the red bark when wet. Credit: Minnesota Historical Society
Male cloth doll, possibly Ojibwe, with beaded facial features and earrings. This doll depicts a man in the type of formal dress – beaded shirt and leggings, an apron, and two bandolier bags strapped across his chest – that can be seen on men dancing at pow wows to this day.  Credit:  Minnesota Historical Society
Male cloth doll, possibly Ojibwe, with beaded facial features and earrings. This doll depicts a man in the type of formal dress – beaded shirt and leggings, an apron, and two bandolier bags strapped across his chest – that can be seen on men dancing at pow wows to this day. Credit: Minnesota Historical Society
Ojibwa beaded velvet dance apron ca. 1893    Credit:  Minnesota Historical Society
Ojibwa beaded velvet dance apron ca. 1893 Credit: Minnesota Historical Society
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s