10 July 2013

Lieutenant Pratt's Bell Jar

As is almost always the case with art making, this piece is taking approximately twice as long as I expected. In addition to the usual “it takes how long it takes” truism, my 11-year old automobile died suddenly, and finding a replacement took me out of the studio for about 10 days. But I'm back, and ready to show you the printed ‘ledger paper’ I made.

You can probably make out the alligator shape on the bottom right, but you might be wondering what's going on with the shape in the center. Here’s where that shape came from:

This is a drawing by one of the Fort Marion captives, a Kiowa-Mexican named Etahdleuh Doanmoe, depicting a religious service at the fort. The drawing comes from a sketchbook by Doanmoe which the Indians’ overseer, Lt. Richard Henry Pratt, kept and to which he added type-written annotations. I was struck by the stark emptiness of this page and the appearance that the little people were trapped inside a dome, like a snow globe. To me it reads loud and clear as a depiction of captivity and isolation.

In 1992, PBS ran a documentary on their series “The American Experience” called In the White Man’s Image, a film that traces the development of Lt. Pratt’s methods for acculturating Native Americans into mainstream white culture. It begins with the story of the 72 captives at Fort Marion, where Pratt first used his methods, and continues with an examination of Pratt’s Carlise School for Indians, established in Pennsylvania in 1879. In that film I was interested to see this engraving, from Harpers Bazaar Magazine, of a classroom at Fort Marion. It looks quite a bit like Doanmoe’s drawing of the chapel service.

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