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Jul 15, 2023
Howard Terpning (b. 1927)
Paper That Talks Two Ways – The Treaty Signing (2008)
oil on canvas
57 × 70 inches
signed and dated lower right
Signed, titled, and dated
Label, Autry Museum of the American West, Los Angeles, California
Fellow artist Harley Brown wrote, “A gathering of Cheyenne and Sioux meet to hear an orator express his distrust of the words of the peace commission that have been translated to him. The title comes from the Indian expression that the treaty always said one thing to the white man and quite another to the Natives. The scene is loosely patterned after the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.
“Each face, each individual, around the speaker is engaged, some more than others. The focus of the painting is on the Native people, so we see only the corner of a table and the shoes of the commissioner. The breaks and sags in the canvas tenting help frame the background figures against the sky and mirror the shape of the ground below. The leaning pole at left gives movement, breaking up the group in shadow. That angle is echoed by the light-clothed figures in the lower left, bringing the eye into the painting.
“Howard’s works are always broader than what is seen; people look beyond the painted image, and figures enter at the edges. Even the small stick on the ground was carefully placed. Note the angle and high key of the central figure’s hand – a patch of light against surrounding darkness - as it points towards the documents.”
In discussing this painting the artist writes, “I had been thinking about painting a treaty signing picture for about ten years before I finally came up with a composition that I thought would work. Off and on, usually in the evening, I would go into the studio and do small sketches, sometimes in color, trying to capture the best way to tell the story. It had to include so many elements and they all had to be tied together.
“To get all the reference material I gathered as many friends together as possible. The light during the day had to be just right and the position of everyone had to match what I had sketched. It took quite a while to get all the material shifting everyone from one position to the next. From start to finish the painting required three months to complete. In the end the effort paid off.
“I think the title tells the story. I gifted this painting to my wife, hence the two hearts painted in the lower corner. We each painted one of the hearts.”
The artist, gifted to
Terpning Family, Tucson, Arizona
Howard Terpning: Tribute to the Plains People, Autry Museum of the American West, Los Angeles, California, 2012
Harley Brown, Tribute to the Plains People, The Greenwich Workshop, 2012, pp. 102-03, illustrated
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Surface is in excellent condition. No signs of restoration.
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