20 June 2013

Re-Riding History: Project Brief

This month I’m taking a short break from my current series to work on a piece for a project called “Re-Riding History: From the Southern Plains to the Matanzas Bay” organized by Emily Arthur, Marwin Begaye, and John Hitchcock. The three curators have invited 72 artists to create works inspired by the story of the relocation and imprisonment of 72 Plains Indians who were captured in 1875 at Salt Fork, Oklahoma, and brought by wagon, train and boat to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida.

As followers of my blog probably know, I’ve been interested in Native American history for almost as long as I’ve been making woodblock prints, and I’ve done a number of works on the topic (see some here, here and here), so I was touched and excited when Emily Arthur invited me. I said yes immediately, was offered a PDF full of research links on the topic, and I’ve spent several weeks now learning about this little-examined incident in America’s inglorious relationship with our native peoples.

Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida
To tell the story very briefly, 72 Comanche, Kiowa, Arapaho, and Caddo Indians were captured at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1875 during uprisings associated with the Plains Wars. To prevent further uprisings and to make examples of those identified as troublemakers, the Indian prisoners were exiled to Fort Marion in Florida, where, under the direction of Lt. Richard Henry Pratt, they were subjected to military methods of “Indian assimilation.”

Apaches at Fort Marion
Shortly after their arrival, with no explanation or warning, Pratt removed the prisoners' shackles, cut their hair and issued them military uniforms, which they were expected to care for as any U.S. soldiers would. After a time, they were organized into companies and given instruction in military drill. Eventually, their military guards were dismissed and several of the most trusted Indian prisoners were chosen to serve as guards. It was a quietly insidious and effective program, and Pratt became an ardent evangelist for these methods. In 1879 he founded The Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he would remove Indian children from reservations and tribal influences and transform them into ‘American citizens.’ Although Pratt’s methods look cruel and abusive to our eyes, they were a great improvement over the extermination policies that were in place at the time.

Lt. Richard Pratt
The curators of this project have suggested several directions for artists to take: biographical (to work with the story of a particular prisoner), topographical (work with any of the locations related to this history), or art historical (respond to the art made by the prisoners). I’ll be doing a little bit of each of these things, but as a northerner and an Anglo-American, it is the story of Richard Henry Pratt and his Indian School in Pennsylvania that most captured my attention.

In the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting about this project as I work on it.

Addendum: There is now a website for this project here.


Nicole Geary said...

I'm excited to see what you do with this, Annie. Your work always blends history with heart.

Unknown said...

Hello! I am an artist also working on a piece for this show, found your blog. I will be excited to see the beautiful work and inspired responses. ~Molly Murphy Adams

Annie B said...

Hi Molly! I'll go google you as soon as I say thanks for finding me!! I'm excited to see the works, too.

Unknown said...

This project is great! I am an artist and related to the lone Caddo. We need the story of these 72 men,women and children out there! Thanks!

Annie B said...

Hi Dolores. Check out the web site for this project: www.reridinghistory.org