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Alfred Jacob Miller : “Medicine Circles” (1858-1860)

Archival Inkjet on Matte Finish Fine Art Paper

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“The curious circle represented in the sketch we found on the upper waters of the Platte, near our encampment for the night, and puzzled ourselves sufficiently in surmises touching their original and import. They formed nearly complete circles of about 20 feet diameter, composed of Buffalo skulls, with noses pointed each to the centre. We were informed by the Trappers and old mountain voyageurs of their having met with them in other districts, composed entirely of human skulls;— but could give us no further information as to their purpose. The word ‘medicine’ being equivalent in meaning to our word ‘charm.’ It is more than probable that they formed some part of a superstitious ceremony.” A.J. Miller, extracted from “The West of Alfred Jacob Miller” (1837).

In July 1858 William T. Walters commissioned 200 watercolors at twelve dollars apiece from Baltimore born artist Alfred Jacob Miller. These paintings were each accompanied by a descriptive text, and were delivered in installments over the next twenty-one months and ultimately were bound in three albums. Transcriptions of field-sketches drawn during the 1837 expedition that Miller had undertaken to the annual fur-trader’s rendezvous in the Green River Valley (in what is now western Wyoming), these watercolors are a unique record of the closing years of the western fur trade.

(Text courtesy of The Walters Art Museum, GNU FPL-1.3).

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