Monday, July 30, 2012

"American Indians" and Laura Weaver on the George Beattie Murals at the Georgia Museum of Art

The museum has created four videos to educate the public, provide context for the images and discuss exactly why they are problematic. This one features Laura Weaver of UGA's Institute of Native American Studies discussing Beattie's many inaccuracies in his portrayal of native people and the myth of the "noble savage."

Details from:
George Beattie (American, 1919-1997)
American Indians, 1956
Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; Transfer from the Georgia Capitol Museum, a department of the University of Georgia Libraries
GMOA 2011.644

Beattie’s conscious decision to begin his history murals with a depiction of American Indians from the proto-historic, pre–European contact period may be his most progressive answer to the questions of how and what to show in the works because it recognizes the role of American Indians in the history of Georgia. Prior to their contact with Europeans, the American southeastern peoples—the Creeks, Hitchiti, Cherokee, Yamacraw, Yuchi, and others—managed fields of maize, beans, and squashes supplemented in their diet by deer, turkeys, migratory waterfowl, and fish. Beattie fashions a composite scene centered on the planting, harvesting, and grinding of maize. The white oak splint baskets they use to transport the corn, typically created after European contact by northeastern peoples, and the Southwestern-style pottery represent two historical mistakes. Meanwhile, Beattie’s idealization and romanticism indict him as a product of art historical tradition and of the 1950s.

The nudity of the American Indian women remains one of the more controversial elements in any of the eight murals. Beattie creates their voluptuous figures by drawing on ancient art traditions depicting the female nude, including those of prehistoric art (for example, the Woman from Willendorf, discovered in Austria), Greek and Roman sculpture, and Renaissance painting and sculpture. Often, those images focused on the idealization of feminine beauty and the objectification of the female form and its sexuality and fertility. Early maps of the Americas sometimes also idealized American Indian women, especially in cartouche and peripheral imagery, as ancient, beautiful nude goddesses, emphasizing fertility and fecundity. Beattie’s decision, as a white male artist, reflects these visual traditions as well as sexy, 1950s-style pin-ups. Beattie’s idealization of these figures and the idyllic fashion in which he shows the agricultural life of American Indians contrast strongly with many other mural projects of the 1930s to 1950s that sometimes depict Native peoples in a less positive light.

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