Penn Library Exhibitions

Robert Montgomery Bird: Writer and Artist

Native Americans
Dr. Bird's 1830 painting of "Alabama Creek Boys" should be compared to J. O. Lewis's portrait of Brewett, a Miami chief. It is easy to distinguish between Lewis's "anthropological" approach to depiction of Native American peoples and Bird's more humanistic approach to their portrayal. In some of his prose romances, such as Nick of the Woods, Bird portrays "murderous Injuns" in a fashion that distresses modern readers; it was not entirely pleasing even to his contemporaries. But his artistic portrayals of Native peoples show a different attitude. His working sketches (seven of them shown here) are portrait busts in something of the style of Lewis and of the other portraitists of Native Americans who contemporaneously worked in the same tradition. When, however, he completes paintings of his Native American subjects (three of them are shown here), he quite clearly removes them from the arena of anthropological specimens in which his sketches, like Lewis's portraits, seem to leave them. Instead he returns them, as actors, to the world in which they and he both live.

Please note: all images are courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Montgomery Bird.

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Seven Watercolor Portraits of Native Americans

[IMAGE]
"Winnebago"
[IMAGE]
"Winnebago Chief and Orator"
[IMAGE]
"Winnebago Halfbreed"
[IMAGE]
Untitled
[IMAGE]
"Winnebago"
[IMAGE]
"The Yellow Thunder--
Winnebago Chief. Philad"
[IMAGE]
"Na-shée-us-kuck,
(Loud Thunder) Son of Black Hawk, 27 yrs. old
. . . Detroit, July, 1833."

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Two Watercolors of Native Americans in Natural Settings
undated, untitled, and unsigned

[IMAGE] [IMAGE]

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Watercolor of a Native American in elaborate costume,
with an animal skin hanging from his back

Untitled, undated, and unsigned

[IMAGE]

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