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APPENDIX #13
ART IN THE COMMITTEE ROOMS

THE SETH EASTMAN PAINTINGS OF INDIAN LIFE ON DISPLAY AT

THE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES This monograph on the Eastman paintings on Indian life was prepared by Ms. Julie Aronson, a graduate student in art history at the University of Delaware. 1992. All Photographs of the Eastman paintings courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol. Originally printed under The Honorable George Miller, Chairman.

The Seth Eastman Paintings of Indian Life On Display at the

Committee on Resources

Brevet Brigadier General Seth Eastman (1808-1875)

In 1867 Brevet Brigadier General Seth Eastman (1808-1875) was awarded the commission for nine paintings of Native American subjects to decorate the new quarters of the Committee on Indian Affairs of the House of Representatives in the U.S. Capitol Building. Unanimously regarded as among the foremost recorders of Indian life, Eastman was the logical choice for the assignment. Today these paintings, nine of which hang in the hearing room of the Committee on Resources in the Longworth Building, serve as important documents of Native American culture as viewed through the eyes of a nineteenth-century U.S. military officer and artist. As few of Eastman's oil paintings are known to survive, these paintings are treasured examples of his accomplishments in this medium. Seth Eastman was born in Brunswick, Maine, on January 24, 1808. At sixteen, he enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he received his first documented training in art.

Upon graduation on July 1, 1829, he was commissioned second lieutenant in the First Infantry and assigned to frontier duty at Fort Crawford, Wisconsin. His transfer the following year to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, at the junction of the Mississippi and St. Peter's Rivers (now the Minnesota), however, would have greater consequences for his artistic career. Fascinated by the local population-primarily the Mdewakan ton ("Spirit Lake People"), a division of the eastern, or Santee Dakota-Eastman made them the subjects of his most important works of art.' He also became fluent in their language and sustained

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Although commonly referred to as Sioux-a derogatory name meaning "snake" or "adder" applied by their enemies, the neighboring Chippewa (or Ojibwa)-Dakota, meaning "allied" or "leagued

a brief marriage to a Dakota woman, with whom he had a daughter.

Eastman's fine draftsmanship earned him an appointment to West Point to serve as Assistant Teacher of Drawing-a position he held for seven years through 1840. His Treatise on Topographical Drawing, published in 1839, became the standard manual on the subject for the U.S. Army

Eastman married Mary Henderson (1818-1887), a physician's daughter and writer, in 1835. As an author, she vividly described many of the scenes Eastman delineated, while he furnished illustrations for her books, such as Dahcotah; or Life and Legends of the Sioux Around Fort Snelling (1849).

Reassigned to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, in 1841, Eastman, then captain, accompanied by his wife, returned and remained for the next seven years. The region, known for its picturesqueness, was recorded by the artist in scores of delicate, precise sketches.

Eastman was then appointed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington to illustrate Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Conditions and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, a prodigious six-volume study written under a Congressional order of March 3, 1847.

Over the next twelve years Eastman's health declined, yet he remained active, serving in Texas (where he was promoted to major) and Utah before returning to Washington due to illness. Having sufficiently recovered, he was made mustering and disbursing officer for Maine and New Hampshire when the Civil War broke out and was promoted to lieutenant colonel, First In fantry. Although officially retired from active service on December 3, 1863, Eastman commanded several additional posts before his final assignment at the Harrodsburg Military Asylum in Kentucky. In August 1867, he was directed by special order of the President to return to Washington to decorate the quarters of the House Committees on Indian and Military Affairs.

From September 1867 through 1869, Eastman painted the scenes of Indian life, drawing on the accumulated experience and materials of thirty years on the frontier. After their completion, he began a series of canvases depicting United States forts for the Committee on Military Affairs, seventeen of which he had completed by his death in 1875. These now hang in a corridor of the U.S. Capitol Building.

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Indian Mode of Traveling is a showcase of Eastman's ability to paint a light-filled evocative landscape. The slow cadence of the figures and horses moving from one edge of the canvas to the other suggests a continuity appropriate for the nomadic existence of the Dakota tribe.

The traditional movement of tribes was primarily seasonal. Large summer encampments were broken up and communities divided into smaller groups of one to three families at the onset of winter, when game would be more scarce. Migration was such an accepted feature of life that everything was transportable, including tipis which could be rolled up. As Eastman has depicted, belongings were packed on wooden constructions known as travois, which, before the introduction of the horse, had been pulled by dogs.

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Wild rice was an important staple of the eastern Dakota and the Chippewa. As the woman on the left controls the canoe, the other two bend the tall stalks and loosen the grain by beating them with paddle-like implements. Two other canoes are in the distance in which women pursue related tasks. The foreground canoe, depicted with such studied detail that one can actually detect how it was put together and sense the texture of its birch bark surface, indicates that these women were Chippewas; the Dakotas carved their canoes from tree trunks.

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