An art exhibition returns portraits of Winold Reiss to the Blackfeet Reserve


For the first time in more than 60 years, the works of Winold Reiss returned to the Blackfoot Reserve, where many of them were created.

Through a collaboration between the Blackfeet Nation, the Museum of the Plains Indian, the BNSF Foundation and the Glacier National Park Conservancy, an exhibition of nine original pastel portraits of Reiss will be on display in Browning. until October 29.

“We are very excited to present this important exhibit to the public and the Blackfeet reservation,” said Rene Bear Medicine, curator of the Museum of the Plains Indians. “Rice learns from and influences the inspiring Blackfeet artists then and now. The portraits are displayed along with personal artifacts belonging to the people in the portraits, and along with the artwork of those he has influenced. “

The son of the German artist Fritz Rice, Winold Rice was born in 1886 and followed in his father’s footsteps, learning to become an artist before emigrating to the United States in 1913 to pursue his Native American fascination.

The purpose of the move was explained by the artist’s grandson Peter Rice at the opening of the exhibition in Browning on May 27.

“After reading stories about the American West, my grandfather decided to come to America with the explicit goal of creating a permanent living memorial to local culture and a spiritual way of life with very accurate portraits,” said Peter Reiss. “He was able to do just that, but along the way he also forged lifelong friendships with people he admired so deeply.”

Winold Reiss first came to Browning in the winter of 1920. Within minutes of getting off the train, he met Turtle, an experienced Black-legged grizzly bear hunter who would become his lifelong friend and the subject of many Reiss’s portraits – one of which hangs in the exhibition.

While his subjects had many reasons to sit for portraits, one was that Reiss paid well, between 50 cents and $ 1 an hour – between $ 10 and $ 20 in today’s money.

Returning to the reserve in 1927, this time Reiss was commissioned by the Great Northern Railway Company to make more portraits to help promote Empire Builder on the railroads.

While many other artists sold their work to the Great Northern during the same period, Reiss’s work was more than any other artist who came to define their advertising campaigns.

Over the years, GNR has used Reiss images for a variety of promotional items, from calendars and posters to playing cards, train menus and more.

IN In the summer of 1931, Reiss opened an art school on the shores of Lake St. Mary near the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park. While the school operated on its own in 1931, it reopened in the summer between 1934 and 1937, sponsored by GNR.

Including lessons in painting, painting, sculpture, mural painting and design, the school is taught by Rice, his brother Hans and fellow German-born artist Karl Link.

Students could pay to attend school and could even get a college loan through New York University, but Reiss always waived tuition fees for Blackfeet students.

Several notable Blackfeet artists attended the school, including Albert Racine, Isabel McKay, Stanley Croff and Victor Pepion, whose works are also part of the exhibition.

Reiss was quoted in the exhibition as saying that Blackfeet artists were “the most talented students I have ever had.”

Over the years, GNR has purchased nearly 100 portraits from Reiss, which are now part of a collection belonging to GNR’s contemporary successor, BNSF Railway.

WHEN THE GLACIER National Park Conservancy board member Cheryle Cookie Cobell Zwang began dreaming of a project that would benefit both the park and her fellow Blackfeet members, and Winold Reiss’s work immediately came to mind.

Both her great-grandmother and grandfather sat for portraits of Reiss, and she knows many others in the area who have relatives who have done the same.

The opportunity to attract visitors to Browning and show the lives of those portrayed in Reiss’s painting was the perfect pairing Zwang was looking for.

“I thought this project could bring tourism to the reservation, but it could also tell a story that can’t be told anywhere else,” she said. “They are such iconic images. I knew that many people would recognize and appreciate them. They attract a lot of attention. ”

Zwang turned to fellow board member and BNSF Railway Foundation president Zak Anderson for the project, and soon the ball was rolling.

“An idea is a very small thing, unless you can get people involved and make it a reality. “It seems to have been an idea that anyone could fall behind,” Zwang said.

At the end of May, Zwang’s idea became a reality.

“Presenting these paintings to the public here at Browning and the Plains Indian Museum is really important,” said Glacier Conservancy CEO Doug Mitchell. “This is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to explore the complex and sometimes intense history of Glacier and do so through the prism of the first people in the park whose living relatives give voice to the true stories of the people in Reiss’s work.”

Zuang had grown up listening to stories about her great-grandparents and had seen reproductions of their portraits by Reiss, but the Browning exhibition was the first time she had seen the original pastels and the objects the museum could display with them. it included some of her great-grandmother’s beads and her original police uniform. Her great-grandmother, Julia Wades in the Water, was the first Indigenous woman in the United States to serve as a police officer.

“I knew my great-grandmother was a great craftsman, but seeing her work in person was truly amazing. It was an amazing experience and anyone who visits the museum can experience it, too, ”Zwang said. “The whole focus of the exhibition is to revive the people in the portraits, as well as the people in Blackfoot who studied with Reiss.

“Rice had such a connection to people and the earth,” Zwang added. “My greatest hope is that this exhibition will help many people discover the museum and everything it has to offer. I hope people appreciate Winold Reiss’s work for the amazing art he is, as well as for the amazing people in these portraits.

Located at the 19th Museum Loop in Browning, the Indian Plains Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Reporter Jeremy Weber can be reached at 406-758-4446 or [email protected]

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