- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2001

A group of Jicarilla Apaches visited Washington in 1880. Theirs was one of many American Indian delegations that came to petition over their loss of land rights.
Washington photographer Moses P. Rice caught them on film at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. He posed them against Frederick Churchs "Niagara" (1857), which then was considered the most potent symbol of Americas might.
Rice unconsciously created the most ironic photo in the exhibit "Native Land: Photographs From the Robert G. Lewis Collection," which opens today at the Corcoran. The show with its 61 images drawn from the fine collection of a Denver attorney who practices natural resources and energy law documents the sense of futility Indians experienced in fighting for the power of land and mineral resources that "Niagara" symbolized.
Mr. Lewis who has collected 200 portraits and landscapes that he believes complement and build on one another has a keen eye and an interest in the history of each photo. Exhibit curator Paul Roth put together a booklet from the collectors notes.
Although government agencies and railroads commissioned landscape photos to promote the West, Mr. Lewis believes images of the Indians are just as important in chronicling the crucial second half of the 1800s and early 1900s.
Both portraits and landscapes show the growth of the United States and the destruction of American Indians. They illustrate as well the doctrine of Manifest Destiny that claimed for the United States the right and duty to expand its territory throughout North America.
Photographers shot American Indians in all kinds of settings and at different stages of their descent. Photography was still in its infancy when Joseph Henry, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, mandated in 1865 that all Indian delegations be photographed.
"Chief Wolf Robe" of the Southern Cheyenne exudes the force and presence of the quintessential Indian leader as he was photographed in 1909 by De Lancey Gill.
Larger groups, such as the Ute Delegation of 24 to the Washington Treaty of 1880, also are portrayed. Lewis Emory Walker shot them in four sections in four albumen prints of 6 by 61/2 inches each.
To leave the studio and work on the reservations was more difficult, but photographers such as the well-known John Hillers did. He portrayed the Cheyenne "Mok-Ta-Vo-Ints, Starving Elk" in a relaxed pose resting against some rocks with one knee crossed but distant.
A. Frank Randall shot "Geronimo, Famous Chiricahua Chief, Arizona" in 1884. Randall depicted the famous warrior as an uncivilized aborigine. Geronimo holds his shotgun fiercely and sports a threatening scowl. Mr. Roth says this was what the public wanted to see at the time.
Times had changed when Charles Henry Carpenter captured Geronimo on film at the Louisiana Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis. Geronimo was part of a sideshow.
Landscapes, of course, were the big sellers. Most photographers shot them in the tradition of romantic landscape painting to show the possibilities of the future. The photographers accompanied government scientists, surveyors and railroad entrepreneurs.
William Henry Jackson was one of the best, and Mr. Roth selected eight of his photographs from the Lewis Collection for viewing. When Jackson shot "Bakers Park and Sultan Mountain, Colorado" in 1875, he aimed to show the immensity and possibilities of the landscape. He arranged the scene so that a river runs dramatically and diagonally to the back mountains. A tiny settlement and railroad are just visible. An Easterner would look at images like this and conjure up a new life and wealth for himself through minerals.
Jackson also photographed "Canon of the Rio Las Animas, Colorado" in 1882. He moved much closer to the mountain to show every detail of the rocks. Steam-powered railroad cars also figure prominently. Its possible that Jackson traveled west on this train with the painter Thomas Moran.
Sandia Pueblo, an American Indian sovereign nation, is the main sponsor of the exhibit. "Our people believe it is important to make it known that Indian people are still here, and our cultures and religions are still very much alive," they write in one of the exhibit labels. "We believe the 21st century will be a time of renewal, rebirth and prosperity for our people. It has been said many times that those of us who do not know our history are doomed to repeat it, and this is why the Pueblo of Sandia feels the Native Lands exhibit is very important."

WHAT: "Native Land: Photographs From the Robert G. Lewis Collection"
WHERE: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays and until 9 p.m. Thursdays, through Aug. 6
TICKETS: $5 adults, $8 families, $3 seniors and member guests, $1 students
PHONE: 202/639-1700
SPONSOR: Sandia Pueblo Indians, Anne and Ronald Abramson, and Jean and Duane Beckhorn


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