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The Cyrus Dallin Art Museum

Discover an American Master


Native Americans

Unlike many of the American and European sculptors who had crafted images of Native Americans, Dallin personally knew the people whom he portrayed. Dallin grew up on the American frontier, playing with Native American children, learning archery from them, and riding his first train East with chiefs and warriors of the Crow tribe. With this perspective, Dallin became the first to create sculptures that depicted Native Americans in naturalistic, sympathetic, and heroic forms.

While studying art in Paris, Dallin sketched Native American performers and their families at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and sculpted full-scale, clay models in clay to be cast in plaster and bronze. The finished works record Dallin’s interaction with his models and his medium that preserve the immediacy of his trained perception and personal vision.

In contrast, artists before Dallin might have selected poses from Renaissance and classical models, and applied feathered costumes to show that the sculptures represented New World inhabitants. American sculptors of previous generations prepared clay models that were shipped to Italy to be carved in marble. Craftsmen would “point up” the models to full scale, adding detail and finish at a distance.

Dallin began most of his Native American sculptures at the end of the Indian Wars, when the US Army subjugated the peoples driven from the West. His art may well be a protest or memorial to the nature of the conflict and its results.


Indian Head

Indian Head

Plaster, 1929
Museum purchase

Three years after creating five other heroic-scale Native American busts that he exhibited in Boston and New York, Dallin made this plaster sculpture. He sold it and several bronze copies to the Indian Head National Bank of Nashua, New Hampshire. The bank installed them in its branches, and used it for  its logo. (The Bank also produced children’s cast-iron coin banks, one of which is on exhibit at the Museum.) Extensive restoration included removing a coat of copper paint and repairing many broken feathers on the head-dress.




Plaster, 1914
P.P. Caproni and Brother cast
Museum purchase

Sacajawea or Sacagawea (“Bird Woman”) (ca. 1788-1812), was a Lemhi Shoshone girl, kidnapped by Hidatsa raiders at the age of 11. She married Toussaint Charbonneau, a French Canadian fur trapper, at the age of 16.  In 1803, Charbonneau and his pregnant wife signed on as guides and interpreters for the Lewis and Clark expedition. A skilled negotiator and proficient in multiple languages, Sacajawea was of great help to the explorers as a peace keeper and translator. She was also familiar with the territory and prepared food for the expedition with roots, berries and herbs.

Charbonneau and Sacajawea’s son, Jean Baptiste, called Pomp (Shoshone for “First Born”), was born in 1805 and traveled with his mother to the Pacific Ocean and back. Sacajawea died in 1812. After her death, William Clark adopted Pomp and his sister Lizette. In 1998, a golden dollar coin was created to honor Sacajawea and all Native American women of the United States.



Appeal to the Great Spirit

Plaster, 1909
P.P. Caproni and Brother cast
Gift of students of the former Locke School

Appeal to the Great Spirit portrays a Sioux chief, defeated by the US Army, engaged in prayer. Dallin first envisioned a three-figure composition, but fellow sculptor Daniel Chester French suggested simplifying it. Monumental bronze versions stand in front of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts as well as in Muncie, Indiana, and there is a posthumous casting in Tulsa, Oklahoma. By the 1920s, the Appeal had become one of many American sculptural icons by Dallin, and remains so today. It was widely reproduced, but few reproductions were authorized, and Dallin did not benefit financially from them.