On April 28, 1858, Olmsted and Vaux’s took first place in a design contest for Central Park. In the 1870’s and 1880’s, New Yorkers took great delight in sprinkling monuments and buildings about the Park, like a tree at Christmas. Cleopatra’s Needle was erected in 1877, the American Museum of Natural History was founded in 1868, the statue of Alexander Hamilton appeared 1880, and that of Fitz-Greene Halleck popped up in 1877, unveiled by none other than Rutherford B. Hayes himself. (We didn’t know who Halleck was either. Go ahead and wiki him. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitz-Greene_Halleck We’ll still be here when you get back.)
George Catlin noted the propensity to New Yorkers to decorate their Park. He also knew that he possessed a large collection of American Indian art, developed over years of tramping around the Great Plains sketching and painting the various tribes. It was pretty good art too, Charles Baudelaire stated “Catlin has captured the proud, free character and noble expression of these splendid fellows in a masterful way.” Finally, Catlin was a perennial debtor, and if he could interest New York City in purchasing his pictures, erecting a suitable monument, and hiring him to give lectures, it would solve his most pressing problems.
And so, Catlin came up with a plan. A gigantic, 75 feet tall teepee would be constructed by the Crow Tribe, and transported to New York by Catlin himself. The upper portion would be painted red, and the lower part yellow, featuring characteristic scenes of life among the tribes “such as buffalo-hunting, dancing, and scalping parties. Beneath this will be a broad band of scalp locks and porcumpine quills. This, as well as an upper and lower band, will be painted red, and furnished with circular windows of ground glass, so colored that their object will not be discovered from without.” Inside, Catlin would place his six hundred paintings of Indian life, to be thoughtfully purchased by New York City.
Perhaps fortunately, the teepee never got built. Catlin’s drawings however did find a home at the Smithsonian, in private collections, and many of his sketches are in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History.
Oh, and here is a painting by Catlin, and Catlin himself: