American Indian Symbols

Marsden Hartley (1877–1943)

Object Details

    Date:
  • 1914
  • Medium:
  • Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:
  • 39 1/4 X 39 1/4
  • Accession Number:
  • 1999.8
  • Artwork Credits:
  • Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Object Description

While living in Berlin, Germany, in 1914, Hartley developed a progressive style in a series he called his “Amerika” paintings—abstract compositions incorporating American Indian motifs. Using chiefs’ blankets, headdresses, shields, and tipis, the artist reinterpreted them in brightly colored rhythmic patterns. The shape of the centralized tipi in this work from the series, repeated on each side of the canvas, centers the recurring designs in the image, including the wheel-like stars at the top.

Hartley created this work for a German audience fascinated by the pageantry of Wild West shows and American Indian culture. The black-and-white checked banner on the right side of the canvas refers to the German military. A few months after the artist finished this painting, Germany declared war on Russia and World War I began.

Educator Resources

Essential Questions

  • How do artists use simple geometric shapes to make complex compositions?
  • What role does symmetry play in a work of art?
  • What is a symbol and why might an artist incorporate symbols in a work of art?
  • How have representations of American Indians reflected historical events and changed over time?

Suggested Activities (prek)

Have students fold a sheet of paper in half and practice drawing shapes on one side. Then have students unfold the sheet and practice creating symmetry on the other half.

Suggested Activities (prek1st grade)

Read And to Name Just a Few: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue by Laurie Rosenwald. Point out how the artist has used red, white, and blue in his painting. Ask students what other objects they know that are these three colors and have them sketch these objects in the appropriate colors.

Suggested Activities (any grade)

Have students think of all the symbols that are significant in their everyday life and create a portrait of themselves incorporating these symbols.

Location: On View
Part of: Paintings