Ancestral Dreams 20x20 oil by Shirley FachillaGeorge Catlin painted over 500 canvases of Native Americans and he painted them twice, once from life and once from his sketches and memories. He had wanted the government to purchase the life series. Instead it was bought in its entirety by a private collector who stored them away from public view. This was when Catlin began to paint them all again.
What strikes me most about the collection is its sensitivity. His men and women are usually shown in standard portrait poses with great dignity rather than great drama. Each is a portrait of an individual not a stereotype.
I've read several different versions of Catlin's original impetus for the series. One is that he was inspired by the Indian Removal Act passed in 1830, the year he began his travels in the West.
My portrait, Ancestral Dreams, is an open studio work of a lovely Cherokee/Scotch American. If her ancestors traveled the Trail of Tears charted by that act of 1830, they managed to find their way back.
A final small and sad irony, Catlin's paintings are now a part of the Smithsonian Collection bought by the government from the estate of the collector, not from Catlin, the artist.