Indian Family with Travois
Watercolor and graphite on paper
13 3/4 x 22 1/4 in.
l.l.signed and dated : C M Russell \ 1897 \ [skull]
Amon G. Carter Collection
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
How do representations of American Indians reflect perceptions? What impact might those representations have on audiences past and present?
What is the relationship between people and machines, and how has that relationship changed over time?
What strategies might an artist use to convey a narrative?
How do sensory details in an artwork influence the viewer's experience?
Access this artwork through Google Arts & Culture to be able to zoom in and see details.
- What do you see?
- Who are the different characters in this story?
- How many people are you seeing?
Pictured here are members of the Blackfoot tribe, who made their homeland on the northern plains. What elements of the painting would help us to discover that information? The landscape and the use of a travois, also known as a drag sled, all indicate that the people in this painting are in the northern plains.
A travois (a French word pronounced trav-wah) was a traditional Native American device for carrying loads across distances. This tool was made of two wooden poles with a platform, basket, or netting suspended between them. It could be attached to the back of a dog, team of dogs, or horse.
What aspects of American Indian life does Russell choose to portray in this image?
How does Russell portray the lives of Blackfoot women? What visual cues did you see that helped you to know?
What do you think they are doing here? Is the Blackfoot tribe nomadic? How can you tell?
What is the role of animals in this artwork? How would this situation be different if the women did not have animals helping them?
What tools do the women have? Where might Russell have obtained the objects, tools, and clothing that he used as references for this painting? What is the importance of these tools? What modern-day devices might take the place of the ones shown in this painting? How have modern tools changed work?
Russell used watercolors to create this painting. What techniques did the artist use to give us sensory details?
What is cultural appropriation? What is the difference between appropriation and appreciation?
The artist, Charles M. Russell, was not a member of this tribe; how might Russell’s depiction of these women be limited because of that fact? Do you see evidence of appropriation or stereotyping of the Blackfoot tribe or of American Indians more broadly?
Why is it important for viewers to consider the perspectives and experiences of the people being represented in works of art?
Students will imagine they have stepped inside the painting and complete sentences about their senses.
- If I were inside this painting, I would see ...
- If I were inside this painting, I would taste ...
- If I were inside this painting, I would hear ...
- If I were inside this painting, I would smell ...
- If I were inside this painting, I would feel ...
Students will make a chart identifying different nouns, verbs, and adjectives in the painting. Under nouns, the students will make a list of five to 10 different nouns they see in the painting. Repeat for the adjective and verbs.
Added challenge: Make it a game! Have students go down a line saying the nouns/verbs/adjectives, but no one can repeat a previously used word! If a student repeats or takes longer than 15 seconds to answer, they are out for that round.
Students will research contemporary artists who identify as American Indian. Then they will write a short essay about the differences in perspectives between a non-American Indian artist who makes artworks about American Indians compared to American Indians making art about their own culture.
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