McKenney & Hall-Native American Works on Paper

McKenney & Hall

Thomas Loraine McKenney (1785 to 1857) and James Hall worked together to compile a volume of portfolios that represented Indian life, lore and custom.

As Superintendent of Indian Trade under Presidents Madison, Monroe, Adams, and Jackson, McKenney had the interest and opportunity to learn first hand the customs and beliefs of many Native American Tribes. He championed the fight to preserve some of the details of the Indian culture, which was an integral part of the history of the United States. The gallery of portraits of the great chiefs by artists such as James Otto Lewis, Charles Bird King and George Cooke were the basis of his legacy. McKenney began planning his archive in 1816 when a delegation of Indians went to Washington D.C. to see President Monroe. It was an opportune time to record their likenesses and he commissioned Lewis and King to produce the paintings.

Hall, who was a frontier lawyer and judge, used his skills as a newspaper editor and author to coherently write the text based on information provided by McKenney. It took six years of hard work and struggle to produce the folio by 1863, History of the Indian Tribes of North America. Philadelphia: 1837-1844.

The original paintings, from which the lithographs were produced, were held in the Smithsonian. An 1865 fire at that institution destroyed almost all of these portraits, making McKenney’s project even more vital in preserving and documenting an important chapter of history. It confirmed McKenney as truly one of the visionaries who captured the brilliance of the Indian culture before much of it was forever lost.

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