About this artwork
In 1897 the Chicago artist Elbridge Ayer Burbank traveled west on behalf of his uncle, the philanthropist Edward E. Ayer, to paint a portrait of the famed Apache chief Geronimo, who was then living in captivity at Fort Sill in the Oklahoma territory. During his subsequent travels throughout the West, Burbank depicted individuals from numerous Native American tribes in ethnographic portraits, nevertheless focusing a sensitive artistic eye on his sitters. Like Hermon Atkins MacNeil before him, Burbank witnessed the Hopi Snake Dance in Arizona and followed the dance’s nine-day progress, ultimately producing more than 19 paintings of the participants. The Art Institute owns eight of these portraits. Each element of paint and dress carries a specific meaning in Burbank’s portraits. In his depictions of the Hopi priests Ko-Pe-Ley and Ho-Mo-Vi, for example, the black paint on the upper parts of their faces represents heavy rain clouds, and the white around their mouths stands for purity and faith. Eagle feathers, used in the ceremony to soothe the snakes, adorn their hair. Thus costumed, the priests would have removed the snakes from a special bag and placed the reptiles crosswise in their mouths. Despite his slightly loose brushwork, Burbank carefully depicted the priests’ ceremonial garb, giving his images anthropological authenticity as well as aesthetic power. He inscribed each portrait with the sitter’s name and tribal affiliation, using "Moqui," an obsolete term for the Hopi people that is now considered offensive.
Currently Off View
- Arts of the Americas
- Elbridge Ayer Burbank
- Oil on panel
- Inscribed, upper left: PAH-PUH. / MOQUI. Signed and dated, upper right: E. A. BURBANK / 1898.
- 20.3 × 15.2 cm (8 × 6 in.)
- Restricted gift of Mrs. Herbert A. Vance in honor of James N. Wood