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King Page 17

Great Canadian Art & Artists

Charles Bird King (1785-1862)

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Thayendanegea - Joseph Brant
Painter - George Catlin/Ezra Ames c 1820
Orig. hand-coloured litho 1836 - Size - 7" x 10"
Found - New York, NY
Pub. & hand-painted McKenney & Hall, 1836 octavo
Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) is one of Canada's most famous Indian chiefs. He was born a Mohawk in the United States, but, after the Americans won their independence from Great Britain, in the 1780s, he brought his tribe into what is now southern Ontario, so his people could live under the British Crown. His Six Nations people were given a large land grant on the Grand River near Brantford at a time when there were few white men in the area.

Charles Bird King is actually an American who painted some 143 of the most famous paintings of American Indian chiefs when they were still at the peak of their glory and reflected the full flowering of their people's culture.

King never went west but painted Indian delegates who visited Washington, like the Chippeway, the Ottawa, the Pottawatomie, the Shawnoo, and the Six Nations, that bordered on the Great Lakes at a time when that border was hardly recognized by First Nations people. King's portraits captured chiefs like Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) who ultimately took his tribe to settle in Canada near Brantford.

So Charles Bird King's portraits are an accurate reflection of the glory of the Canadian First Nations Indian people before their country was overrun by white settlers later on in the century.

But King's portraits are inseparable from the man who hired him to paint - Thomas McKenney - and who preserved and published his works, so scattering the glory of the American Indian to the four corners of the globe and down two hundred years of history.

Painter of a Glorious Past:

After the War of 1812, which featured bloody battles against Indians fighting for their survival, the US government made peace with the British. It could now devote all its energies in the campaign to exterminate the Red Man from the frontier areas of America, and make their territories accessible to land speculators, and for white settlers, ranchers, miners, farmers, and businessmen of every sort.

Towards the middle of the nineteenth century white civilization, both in Canada and the United States, was pushing relentlessly westward, ruthlessly pushing aside the First Nations peoples who lived there. In the United States, this cultural clash led to frequent bouts of bloodshed. The mission, among many whites, was the extinction of America's original peoples.

There were several white men of distinction who dared to think outside the box, who saw Indians not as vermin to be exterminated, but as a unique people whose culture should be celebrated, and whose uniqueness should be preserved for all time, so that future generations could marvel at the America that once was, before it disappeared under the obliterating jackboot of advancing white civilization.

Most white men celebrated the coming end of the "Red Menace;" a few did not.

Thomas McKenney (1785-1859): After the War of 1812 the American Government transported Indian chiefs, resplendent in their tribal finery, from the western and Great Lakes regions, to Washington, DC, to sign away their lands.

In 1816 Thomas McKenney was appointed, by the US War Department, to supervise government relations with America's Indian people. Over the next twenty years he used his office to champion the preservation of the culture of the American Indian, becoming the first head of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. During that time he commissioned artists to paint what he saw as a vanishing national resource, the original peoples of America.

McKenney hired Charles Bird King (1785-1862) to paint most of the spectacular portraits of Indian chiefs and warriors for his War Department Gallery of the American Indian. King had studied in London under Benjamin West - who painted the famous Death of Wolfe - before returning to the US in 1812. In 1818 he moved to Washington DC where he painted portraits, of Indians and socialites, for the rest of his life. He never travelled west to the land of the chiefs whose faces he immortalized.

McKenney also commissioned a few others including teenager Peter Rindisbacher, who had come to Canada's Red River Colony and started painting Indians there. Rindisbacher had a unique style of painting that makes his superb art instantly recognizable

After he was dismissed from government McKenney compiled what is probably the finest ethnographic portfolio of American lithographs ever produced, featuring 120 superb portraits of the leading Indian chiefs of America in the early 19th century, including Joseph Brant, Thayendeneaga.

McKenney & Hall: Thomas McKenney compiled the pictures and wrote the biographies of the chiefs that accompanied the portraits, based on interview he conducted when they came to Washington, DC, or when he made field trips into the wilderness regions of the American west.

He engaged James Hall (1793-1868), a lawyer who had written extensively on the west, to write the general history of the North American Indian which accompanied the pictures.

McKenney & Hall's, three volume, "The History of the Indian Tribes of North America," issued in 1837-1844, is probably the finest ethnographic work ever produced in America. The superb lithographs were each, painstakingly, hand coloured, so each became a unique original work of art. Individual lithos are today, enormously sought after by discerning collectors of American Indian art, whenever an original book is broken up, because few can afford the original volumes themselves which sell for tens of thousands of dollars US each.

The first sets were issued in a spectacular folio size (sheets cut into quarters) resulting in lithos that were a glorious 14 x 20 inches in size. A smaller octavo size (sheets cut into eighths) printing was also made so that more people could afford these spectacular works of art. These were issued as 7 x 10 inch hand-coloured lithos..

Single, hand-coloured lithographs, like those shown here, disbound from these original volumes, sell for hundreds of dollars (US) each, at auctions, even for the small octavo sizes. In stores they are many times that. Some, like Keokuk and his son, below right, one of Bird's most spectacular works, is currently offered for sale as a hand-coloured lithograph - not, it must be emphasized, as the original painted by King - for $5,500 US.

Fire! The original paintings crafted by King were hung in the Smithsonian until all but five were destroyed in a fire in 1865. Luckily McKenney had been secretly smuggling the portraits out of the museum to be copied by Henry Inman, and then returned. Today only the lithographs from his volumes - like those featured here - show what Charles Bird King's original portraits looked like.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Hayne Hudjihini - Charles Bird King c 1820
Orig. hand-coloured litho 1838 - Size - 14" x 20"
Found - Chicago, IL
Pub. & hand-painted McKenney & Hall, 1842 folio
King certainly captured her personality reflected in her name - Eagle of Delight. Sadly, she died of measles, not long after returning to her home in the west.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Le soldat du chene - Charles Bird King c 1820
Orig. hand-coloured litho 1838 - Size - 14" x 20"
Found - Chicago, IL
Pub. & hand-painted McKenney & Hall, 1838 folio
Great First People's Heritage Treasure
Opothle Yaholo - Charles Bird King c 1820 Opothle Yaholo - Charles Bird King c 1820
Orig. black & white litho 1838 - Size - 14" x 20"
Pub. McKenney & Hall, 1838 folio
Orig. hand-coloured litho 1872 - Size - 14" x 20"
Pub. & hand-painted McKenney & Hall, 1872 octavo
This set shows the original lithographs as they were printed in black and white. They would then be given to the colourist to paint in, before being bound in books.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Black Hoof - Charles Bird King c 1820
Orig. hand-coloured litho 1838 - Size - 14" x 20"
Found - Chicago, IL
Pub. & hand-painted McKenney & Hall, 1838 folio
Black Hoof was a Shawnoo, like Tecumseh, whose people ultimately also crossed the border and settled in South Western Ontario near Ipperwash.

Dozens of Charles Bird King's spectacular portraits of notable Indians are featured on every page of our Canada's First Peoples web site, as a lasting tribute to three white men - Charles Bird King, Thomas McKenney, and James Hall - who thought, and acted, outside the narrow confines of their own times and culture, and contributed to the creation and preservation of these marvellous pictorial testimonials to the glorious past of Canada's - and America's - First Peoples.

Go to Canada's First Peoples
Painter - Charles Bird King c1816-1835
Today a small town in southern Saskatchewan is named Wapella. Is it named in his memory?
Painter - Charles Bird King c1816-1835
Two Brothers: Below are two famous Canadian Indian chiefs, Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa. The one-eyed brother was a loud rabble-rousing drunkard, till he found religion and turned his life around, becoming a prophet and preaching to get Indians to turn their lives around, and follow the old ways of their fathers, not that of the white man. He spoke the words of his brother Tecumseh, who was in many ways the exact opposite of his louder brother. Their tribe, the Shawnee, was drawn into the War of 1812, fighting for survival against genocidal American generals, whose work would reward one of them with the Presidency, the other - who killed Tecumseh at the Battle of Moraviantown in Ontario - would become a Vice-President.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure  

Tecumseh - Anonymous Painter, c 1800

Only one period likeness of Tecumseh purportedly exists; the rest are mostly images made by painters with imaginations, years after he died.

But there seems to be a strong likeness to his brother in this image.

Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet, tried to organize an Indian Confederacy to oppose the white settlers that were flooding in and stealing Indian lands west of the Ohio in the early 1800s.

But, at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, his Shawnee people were defeated, many fleeing to British Canada, where they joined the British side to fight off an American invasion when the War of 1812-1814 broke out between the US and Britain (Canada).

Years later, General William Henry Harrison, who commanded the US forces at the battle, used the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" to ride a frenzied popular anti-Indian tide to victory in the US Presidential elections in 1840. By then the Indians had been largely cleared out of Ohio and Indiana. But now the racist wars were rising to a fever pitch against the Indians west of the Mississippi River.

The next fifty years would see untold thousands of Indians there, massacred, transported, or beaten into submission, and their lands expropriated for the superior white master race.

And it had everything to do with the doctrines of whites as racially superior and the non-white Indians as racially and culturally inferior. Every person from Presidents like Jackson and Harrison on down to the dirt poor farmers believed it; many actually proposed that extermination was not a bad idea for members of such an inferior civilization.

After the Battle of Tippecanoe, monument left, Harrison's soldiers burned down the Prophet's town, and dug up the Indian graveyard and scattered the bodies all over, treating them with no more ceremony than as if they were mere road kill...

Similarly, two centuries later, George Bush rode a tidal wave of racist frenzy - this time against Muslims; no other evidence required - to another term in the White House, and - in spite of the opposition of the vast majority of the civilized world - to launch a race war against the Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, based on totally bogus evidence he and his racist cronies had cooked up to do so.

In 2008, New York Mayor Juliani hopes to capitalize on the same racist wave to get him to the White House.

Another way Canadians are different from Americans...

Tenskwatawa - The Prophet - Charles Bird King (1816-1835)
Orig. litho - Size - 36 x 51 cm
Found - Franklin, TN
Pub - McKenney & Hall, Copyright 1838
Tecumseh's brother, painted from life, since he survived the wars and lived long enough to be painted. This is one of the fabulous hand-painted lithographs issued, in large folio size, by McKenney & Hall in 1837-1842, and which are easily the most stunning American Indian bust portraits ever published.