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Medicine Circles
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Medicine Circles

Description Conservation Exhibitions Provenance Credit
Description Extracts from Alfred Jacob Miller’s original text, which accompanied his images of Native Americans, are included below for reference. These words, which shaped how Miller’s contemporaries viewed the watercolors, reveal the racism and sexism embedded in 19th-century exploration and colonization of the western part of what is today the United States. "The curious circle represented in the sketch we found on the upper waters of the Platte, near our encampment for the night, and puzzled ourselves sufficiently in surmises touching their original and import. They formed nearly complete circles of about 20 feet diameter, composed of Buffalo skulls, with noses pointed each to the centre. We were informed by the Trappers and old mountain voyageurs of their having met with them in other districts, composed entirely of human skulls;- but could give us no further information as to their purpose. The word 'medicine' being equivalent in meaning to our word 'charm.' It is more than probable that they formed some part of a superstitious ceremony." A.J. Miller, extracted from "The West of Alfred Jacob Miller" (1837). In July 1858 William T. Walters commissioned 200 watercolors at twelve dollars apiece from Baltimore born artist Alfred Jacob Miller. These paintings were each accompanied by a descriptive text, and were delivered in installments over the next twenty-one months and ultimately were bound in three albums. Transcriptions of field-sketches drawn during the 1837 expedition that Miller had undertaken to the annual fur-trader's rendezvous in the Green River Valley (in what is now western Wyoming), these watercolors are a unique record of the closing years of the western fur trade.
Date Description Narrative
12/28/1976Examinationexamined for loan
4/18/1983Examinationexamined for loan
  • Indians of the Plains: The Watercolors of Alfred Jacob Miller. Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg; Rockwell Museum of Western Art, Corning. 1983.
  • Alfred Jacob Miller: Watercolors and Drawings. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1984.
  • Alfred Jacob Miller: Maryland and the West. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; Washington College, Chestertown; Frostburg State University, Frostburg; Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Rockville. 1988.
  • Alfred Jacob Miller and the Western Indians. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 2006.
Provenance William T. Walters, Baltimore, 1858-1860, by commission; Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1894, by inheritance; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
Credit Commissioned by William T. Walters, 1858-1860

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watercolor on paper
(Painting & Drawing)
Accession Number
H: 9 1/16 x W: 12 1/4 in. (23 x 31.1 cm)
  • USA (Place of Origin)
Location Within Museum
Not On View

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