Mexkemahuastan, Chief of the Gros-Ventres des Prairies

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Pulled from the original steel and copper plates, engraved in Paris between 1836 and 1843 under Karl Bodmer’s direction, after the artist’s own watercolours drawn from nature during the journey.

The engravings are hand-printed in colours, à la poupée, with extensive hand-colouring and some application of gum arabic, in the nineteenth-century manner.

Engraved by Hurlimann
Printed by Bougeard

Earlier, on August 5, when the keelboat had come to rest opposite a large village of Atsina, or Gros Ventres, near the mouth of the Judith River, it had been approached by numbers of villagers wanting to trade and receive presents from the travellers. Among those who boarded the boat at this time was a chief known as Mexhemauastan, or “Stirring Iron,” a formidable individual of uncertain reputation, who only the year before had threatened to kill the factor, or superintendent, at Fort McKenzie. Although this man seemed friendly enough when he met Maximilian’s party, Bodmer’s portrait presents him as a somewhat morose or forbidding figure. His unusual hairstyle, featuring a large knot on top of his head, indicates his special status as a medicine man in his tribe.

The Indians at this place greatly outnumbered the voyagers, who hoisted sail and departed as speedily as possible to avoid further trouble, or the possible outbreak of hostilities.

This portrait was presented out of its proper, chronological sequence in the European atlas.

Text by David Hunt, Director, Stark Museum, Orange, Texas, USA

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