Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Sun Worship in Montana, 1907
Opaque and transparent watercolor over graphite underdrawing on paper
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
As ethnologists have noted, the Blackfeet and other tribes lived in a world of uncertainties. Their lives were continually beset by fears of death by starvation, sickness, or war. They countered such fears with faith in the supernatural powers of the world around them. For the Blackfeet, these powers were stronger than their own, and they could be called upon to provide protection from evil forces during various undertakings. The powers resided in the sky, on the earth, and in the water. The most powerful sky spirits were sun and thunder, and speaking to the sun was considered a very solemn and spiritual act. In this beautifully evocative watercolor, Russell has depicted a Blackfoot woman holding her cradled infant up to the rays of the rising sun, doubtless to invoke health and protection for her child. The woman’s dress, particularly the upper part, is decorated in classic Blackfoot fashion. Her face paint, consisting of vermilion circles on her forehead and upper cheeks, is also typical for the women of the tribe, although purely cosmetic. A single-bladed skinning knife in a beadwork sheath hangs from her beaded belt. A C-shaped fire steel hangs from her belt at the end of a long decorated strap. Brass jewelry, likely acquired in trade, adorns her wrists and fingers. Long shadows fall across the front of her lodge, and a small fire can be seen burning within. A decorated medicine bundle hangs over the lodge entrance, in appropriate Blackfoot fashion. For this scene, Russell has utilized the application of opaque watercolor to achieve the pale blues and pinks of early morning light in the Montana high country.