Apex point - © Robert Sommers 2024

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Piute Squaw

Edwin Austin Abbey - 1872
We were having the complimentary breakfast within earshot of the front desk at the motel in Bishop.

"Now I know what King Tut felt like. That bed was so hard it was like I was a sarcophagus on a bed of marble."

Truly it was the worst bed I have ever slept on. The two hours or so that I got anyway.

The very pretty girl at the front desk overheard me and asked me which room I was staying in?


"Oh, that's one of the new ones," she said, with a hint of apology. Not really willing to let it go without at least a tad more bitching, I started up again and she artfully shut me off with the look. This was a strong woman and I could tell that she wouldn't take much crap.

I asked if she was a native to the area and she said she indeed was. Native American, I asked?  She responded in the affirmative. "Paiute."

Now this is where it gets sort of funny. You see I recently purchased this large watercolor titled Piute Squaw - Nevada May '86 from Don Perry. Love the blanket and the little terrier dog on a leash.

This painting was the work of an artist named Frank Hamilton Taylor (1846-1927). Taylor was an artist who worked for several periodicals in the 19th century, including Harper's Weekly, Frank Leslie's, The Saturday Evening Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He not only wrote but illustrated. A historian, he covered Ulysses S. Grant's trip to the south in 1880 and also served as President of the Philadelphia Sketch Club. He is in several museum collections.

Really an accomplished artist with a fascinating biography. A woman named Nancy Gustke wrote a book about him titled The Special Artist in American Culture: A Biography of Frank Hamilton Taylor (1846-1927) which I confess I have not yet obtained but plan on reading.

Here is an annotated biography from Askart:
He was born in Rochester, New York on April 21, 1846.  Taylor probably developed a strong tie to America and American History early on through his family who could trace their roots back to William Bradford and Alice Carpenter Southwork of the Plymouth Colony of 1620.  Taylor went to public high school in Rochester before joining the Rochester Grays Battery Light Artillery to join the struggle of the Civil War in 1863.  Taylor only served briefly and saw little action.  However this time was of great importance to him and demonstrates his fierce patriotism; to literally fight for what he saw to be just in America.  He would later publish a book on the Civil War (Philadelphia in the Civil War 1860-65) at the request of the city of Philadelphia and the first guidebook for the Valley Forge Parks Commission. (Gustke)
Shortly after his discharge in 1865, Taylor moved to Philadelphia to take an internship in a Lithography firm; choosing the city for its strong publishing industry as well as artistic community.  On his first day in the city, he met Margaret, who would become his wife and be the mother to his only son Frank Walter.  By the 1870's Taylor had his own lithography firm.  During this time he also worked for the Daily Graphic, "the Only Illustrated Daily Newspaper in the World" as a "special artist" which helped to broaden his reputation as a talented artist and designer.  Special Artists were artists hired by newspapers to sketch important events before the widespread use of photography.  Special Artists can be equated with story tellers; with their pens they capture moments realistically, and more importantly, communicably.  This training helped to solidify Taylor's individual artistic style.  By the 1880's Taylor had begun writing articles as well as illustrating them.  One of his most cherished assignments was in 1880, when he was hired by Harper's Weekly to cover Ulysses S. Grant's trip to the American South.  Taylor had a strong reputation in Philadelphia as a historian and artist.  Intimately involved with the Philadelphia Sketch Club, he would briefly serve as president and be a member for over 55 years.  He collaborated on many guidebooks and was asked to write several publications by institutions such as the City of Philadelphia, the Poor Richard Club (for whom he wrote a dictionary of Philadelphia) and the Philadelphia Maritime Exchange.  
In any case, I have only had this watercolor for a few months and once found an exact reference to it in some sort of compendium late one night, which I unfortunately misplaced and I am now unable to put my hands back on. Tried to contact Gustke but she may be in Europe and has left no trail.

The American Magazine Vol. 63 C. 1907
But I did discover something interesting in my scant research. The phrase Paiute Squaw was synonymous with the ugliest woman you would ever want to lay eyes on in the 19th century.

And as I could tell from this enchanting tribal flower on the other side of the motel desk, it is certainly unfair, misplaced, or at least a broad and partially false generalization.

Paiute Squaw, Yo-semite Valley - John Soule 1870- Albumen Silver Print

Or this one:

California Sketches New and Old - Oscar Penn Fitzgerald - 1882
So this painting may have been in fact early propaganda designed to perpetuate an unfortunate and untrue pejorative stereotype of the native people.

While many Americans sought emancipation for blacks and to protect the rights of minorities and the downtrodden, one only needs to look at the words of  seemingly enlightened people like Lincoln or Samuel Clemens to see that native people were long looked at as subhuman beasts not worthy of protection.

I look forward to finding out more about this painting, where and when it was published, etc..

I told the girl about it but didn't mention the crude characterization and asked her to see if the tribe was interested in purchasing it.

Might send it back to an auction house in Philadelphia if I don't sell it privately. A fascinating portal to the past.

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