Thomas Martin Easterly American

Not on view

This frontier portrait of a Sauk (Sac) or Fox chieftain is from a well documented group of eleven daguerreotypes of Sauk or Fox leaders made in March 1847 in St. Louis, Missouri. Collectively, they are believed to be the first photographs of Native Americans in North America, and are among the most impressive and important daguerreian portraits of the era. While many pre 1840s painted likenesses by such masters as Karl Bodmer, Charles Bird King, and George Catlin, offer romantic, often idealized images of Native Americans, Thomas Easterly's daguerreotypes show the sitters as they wished to present themselves, always looking eye to eye at the camera.

Bum bemsue poses for Easterly wearing a grizzly bear claw necklace trimmed with otter fur and glass trade beads. The traditional ensemble rests on his bare chest covered with light pigment. Around the necklace are beadwork roundels that are hand painted with red, blue, and yellow colors, as are the feathers in his cap, the trim on his leather skirt, and the feathers of his arrows. With his intense stare and formidable features, Bum bemsue regards the camera's lens as he might a foe, and poses with two weapons, a fur trimmed tomahawk and a bow with arrows.

Bum-bemsue, Thomas Martin Easterly (American, 1809–1882), Daguerreotype with applied color

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