Julia Tuell Signed Photograph of the Northern Cheyenne's Last Massaum Dance, 1911
Hand-colored silver gelatin photograph, 8.5 x 6.5 in., on original 12 x 10 in. mount, capturing the Northern Cheyenne Indians performing the last Massaum Dance. Copyrighted 1911 and signed three times by photographer, Julia Tuell, Lamedeer, Montana. The third signature can be found on the typed descriptive label affixed on mount verso.
Translated as the "Animal Dance, Buffalo Dance, Crazy Dance, and Foolish Dance," the Massaum Dance is an ancient rite of the Cheyenne people that celebrates the life-blood of their tribe, the buffalo. According to legend, the dance originated from two young men who "went into the earth and brought food." Tuell's faded photograph shows the head man's director in the act of painting a design on the head men of the ceremony, the four paintings, and the only remaining buffalo robes on the reservation. The Northern Cheyenne invited only two photographers, Tuell and Grinnell, to document the four-day ceremony.
Tuell (1886-1960) moved west accompanying her school teacher husband. Eventually settling at Lame Deer Agency, Montana, she became interested in photography, and began taking images of the Northern Cheyenne. She became a keen observer of Cheyenne culture, and because of her status as a woman, was allowed access to scenes of daily and ceremonial life usually considered off limits to whites. Her photographs of the Sun Dance, for example, record scenes that were fast-fading on the Northern Plains. She spoke fluent Cheyenne and lived with the Sioux for some time.
Fading of the photograph; bleeding of the color; soling and toning on the mat. Includes a typed description of the photo on the recto.