THE STORY OF TWO REAL INDIAN ARTISTS
by E. L. Martin.
"Each figure had its meaning;
Each some magic song suggested."
In the world of today, there are just two real Indian artists. They are Lone Star and his wife, Angel De Cora. Both are instructors in art at the United States Government Indian School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and both are themselves students of nature, which the real artist must ever continue to be.
These artists, true to the instincts of their race, "see something more in nature than general effect." Their criticism is that hitherto, with the exception of Frederic Remington, who lived with and studied the red man in his own environment, artists have not seen the Indian soul speaking in the Indian face. The conception of the Indian character has been altogether unlike the Indian himself, which has left the impression upon the general mind that the Indian possesses certain peculiar qualities which in no respect belong to him. The white man, they say -- the artist -- invariably gives the expression of stoicism to the Indian face. And it is only by living with and coming into close relation with these primitive people that he is enabled to find out his great mistake. For a great mistake it certainly is, they inform us, to so depict him. It is easy to recall what a great mind has told us, that "nature is inexhaustible, and alone forms the greatest masters. Say what you will of rules, they alter the truue features and the natural expression." So, Lone Star says, by following conventional rules and practices, false ideas of his race have been given to us. For, "of all things the Indian has been, he has first of all been an artist."
This seems like a fair statement, too, and one that might be expected. For always the Indian has lived with and been governed by nature. Always he has loved the "haunts of nature." Likewise the Indian has had faith in "God and nature," and, like Hiawatha, in his song he has made records of his thoughts in symbolic language. Hence, he has learned to look at nature with an artist's eye.
Realizing the essential truth of all this, Lone Star and his wife, Angel DeCora, both of whom have studied art under such instructors as Joseph De Camp, Howard Pyle, Edmund Tarbell, and Frank Benson, feel that they have just cause for regretting that this misunderstanding of the original American should exist.
There is enough of romance in the life of each one of these artists to enable them fully to appreciate and love the people among whom they were born and with whom they lived in their early childhood. In fact, the opening chapter in the life of Lone Star closely resembles the corresponding one in some tale of fiction.
Wicarhpi Isnala was the boy's name. "Lone Star" his father called him, which is the true interpretation of the Indian significance of his title.
When Lone Star was between two and three years old, his father, a white trader and agent, having become a very wealthy man, concluded to visit his home in the East. He stayed away five years. Then he came back and carried Lone Star off with him. In the meantime he had met and married an old sweetheart, whom he had lost sight of during his stay with Chief Red Cloud's tribe.
Lone Star was now a boy of eight years, so his father entered him in a school here in the East. Being of a bright mind and quick to grasp and retain whatever study he was given to learn, his own language did not prove to be any great handicap. So, at the age of eighteen, he was graduated from high school.
Then he was sent to college and given a course of instruction at an art school.
His father had great ambition for his promising young son, and laid out a most brilliant course for him to pursue. But life on the plains was calling to Lone Star. It almost always happens so! For were not his own people there -- his beautfiul Indian mother, who loved her boy as devotedly as the white mother loves hers, and the sister they left behind? So, back the Indian youth went to see them all. Then he returned to his art and finished his course. For an artist he was, and should ever continue to be.
As an artist, Lone Star has already achieved considerable distinction. And his career is only just begun, as he considers. He has worked as a staff artist on different newspapers, and at the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis he supervised the interior and mural decorations of the Indian exhibit. That was in 1904, the year he met and became acquainted with Angel De Cora, who is a descendant of the hereditary chief of the Winnebagoes.
Nothing could have been more productive of their greatest good than the meeting of these two young Indian artists. Fate must have anticipated what was in store for them when she brought them along the paths which finally merged into one long road, which they soon made up their minds to travel along together until the end was reached.
It is four years since Lone Star became an instructor in the United States Government Indian School at Carlisle. His wife, Angel De Cora, received her appointment two years earlier.
As a little Indian girl, Angel De Cora had been entered in the reservation school. After she had been there a few days, she tells us, a strange white man appeared among them. When, through an interpreter, he asked her if she would like to take a ride in a steam car, childlike she said yes. She was all the more eager to go when she found that six others were accepting the same invitation. The following morning, by sunrise, they all climbed into a big wagon and were driven to the railroad station. Angel De Cora had never seen a steam car or a railroad track in all her life and the situation was a wonderfully exciting one.
All day they rode on and on, and when night came they still continued their journey. And so it was for three days and three nights. Then they arrived at Hampton, Virginia. Angel De Cora was going to be educated as no one had ever dreamed of.
It was three years before she saw her mother again. When her parents found out about her leaving the reservation school they were heartbroken over being thus separated from the daughter. But it was too late to interfere. And when, after a three years' stay at Hampton, Angel De Cora went home for a vacation, her father and the old chief and his wife had all died. "And with them," she says, "the old Indian life was gone."
Her mother's grief over parting with her little daughter was truly pitiful. For months, she told Angel de Cora, she wept and mourned for her. By the time, however, that Angel was ready to return to Hampton again the mother had become reconciled to the changed life, for she saw it was inevitable, as well as being best for them all. There was a great career awaiting the daughter, and one that the mother could take pride in.
Recognizing what her natural gift inclined her to, and what the true bent of her nature was, friends stood ready to urge her on. Through friendly effort she entered the Burnham Classical School for Girls. Then, later, Angel De Cora was entered at the art department of Smith College, at Northampton, Massachusetts. So, with all this painstaking instruction, supplemented by private study under our best art instructors, she is throughly well prepared to aid and companion her talented young husband in the career which he has chosen to follow.
Both Lone Star and his wife, Angel De Cora, maintain that art misrepresents the Indian. Few, if any, of us have ever stopped to consider whether or not there is any distinction between the Indian man and the Indian woman in the wearing of feathers. With the Indian himself, however, it is of the greatest importance. A feather to the Indian means the same as a medal or college letter awarded to a paleface for athletic merit. But under no circumstances does an Indian woman ever adorn herself with feathers. Yet the paleface artists and illustrators, as well as the writers of fiction and otherwise, commit the error of making the Indian woman wear feathers, and also describe the manner in which they affect to decorate themselves with what seems to be their only means of beautifying their persons, for which they have been laughed at by their red-skinned brothers. Before an Indian is entitled to wear eagle feathers he must have distinguished himself by some act of bravery. And every feather stands for a separate count.
Lone Star tells us that at first the Indian "made symbolic records of his thoughts." Then, in course of time, these symbols developed into a regular system of decorative designing. And he reminds us that we have only to recall the garments he wore and the utensils he employed to satisfy ourselves that this is so.
Likewise, the early primitive fashion is the one best suited to the Indian's style for carrying out his natural conception of true art, an instance of this being shown by "the parting of the hair in the middle, then braiding it in two parts and bringing them forward over the shoulders." No other way of arranging the hair, this artist contends, becomes the Indian woman so well. Then there is the use of the fringe, which lends artistic grace to the gestures. Always the Indian has been lavish with this kind of trimming for his skin garments.
The trouble has been that the white man pictured the Indian as his imagination saw him, and not as the Indian actually exists in his free and untrammeled life. Everything there is done for a purpose, and each tribe has a style peculiarly its own. But the time has come, so our two real Indian artists believe, when, if pictorial records of the Indian are to be made, they should be done correctly. And with two such interpreters of the art of their race, this ought not to be difficult of achievement.
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February 1913 issue of
THE RED MAN Volume V, No.
6, a monthly publication of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School