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Painting the Wild Frontier: The Art and Adventures of George Catlin Hardcover – August 25, 2008
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 5–8—Using primary sources, including Catlin's own diaries and letters, Reich helps readers understand the importance of the artist's work and to see him as a man in his own time. The personal documents expose both selfless and selfish sides of his character. At times, he was sensitive to the Native peoples and their cultures, but he also used them for his own gain. Readers also see the artist as a neglectful family man and less-than-successful businessman; however, above all, Catlin is seen as an adventurer. Many of his paintings illustrate the text and add to a sense of excitement. A few of the larger reproductions are in color, giving a clearer view of the artist's palette and style. Other period works are also included. All are well captioned with additional identification and information that ties in to the text. Quotations are carefully documented in chapter footnotes. The author's note explains her choice of terminology and spelling as well as her efforts to avoid cultural bias in writing this book. This is an excellent choice for libraries looking for good biographies, either for reports or pleasure reading.—Carolyn Janssen, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH
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*Starred Review* Reich's own words (“As a white person writing about American Indians, I have tried to be respectful . . . but, like George, I cannot completely erase my cultural biases, no matter how hard I try,”) reflect the dominant theme of her handsome biography of nineteenth-century painter George Catlin, famous for his portraits of Native American life. Underlying the lucid, detailed discussion of the artist, which is illustrated with beautiful archival prints and photographs of his work, are the whites’ conflicting views of Indian peoples, then and now—especially the image of the “noble savage.” Quoting extensively from Catlin’s letters and notes, Reich shows how he was driven to paint authentic cultural rituals and individuals, to champion the Indians’cause, and to record their rich, vanishing way of life in all its diversity. At the same time, she never denies that Catlin exploited his subjects, exhibiting the “primitives,” in the U.S. and abroad. There are long captions with the paintings, and the extensive back matter includes thorough chapter notes, a bibliography, and a time line. A great introduction to Catlin’s work as well as an excellent title to use in social studies, history, and art classes. Grades 7-12. --Hazel Rochman
Top customer reviews
In the foreword to PAINTING THE WILD FRONTIER, Reich describes Catlin as providing an "informed outsider's viewpoint," telling us that "he clearly worked hard to express it with a high degree of integrity." His victories and mistakes provide insight for modern-day artists and writers striving for integrity as we cross boundaries to tell stories.
Essentially, a biographer is always an informed outsider, and Reich, who wrote another excellent book about José Limón, is passionate about meticulous research. To write this book, for example, she studied 19th-century portraiture, landscape, and genre painting, the history of art patronage, and the evolution of 18th- and 19th-century aesthetic philosophies. Among other topics, she researched Native American cultures and the settlement of the West, as well as the interaction of Europeans and indigenous peoples in South America and the principles of anthropology.
The result of her commitment to excellence in research and storytelling is this highly recommended book.