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    Red Horse: Battle Scene Inscribed on Brass Kettle, 1876. In a collection characterized by excellence, by the unusual or scarce, by the unique- in a sale of superlatives- this 16"x 17" remnant of a brass trade pot is, as Cole Porter would have said, "the top." After discovering it on the site of Sitting Bull's Hunkpapa camp in the Valley of the Little Bighorn in the early 1990s, landowner Jason Pitsch immediately grasped its significance and brought it to National Park Service archaeologists. It is a battle scene carved by a Lakota participant and left behind near the scene of battle. As Glen Swanson vividly puts it, the pictograph gave an immediacy to a Sioux warrior's account in 1876 comparable to a televised news bulletin today!

    As an artifact, this incised battle scene has the same power and permanence as an ancient cuneiform tablet or an engraved stone plaque. Park Service Archaeologist Douglas D. Scott wrote that as "kettle art," this is "one of the very few pictographic action scenes known to have been done on metal. It is the earliest documented example of metal battle art known in the western U.S."

    Considering it as a work of art, the art historian Janet Berlo noted that while "this engraving does not have the fluency of line evident in the finest examples of Plains drawings on paper" - after all, it was engraved on metal, and the artist was likely in a hurry! - Nonetheless "it is evident that the artist sought to portray the maximum amount of information with great economy of means."

    Interpreting it as an historical document, Berlo also pointed out that "research has demonstrated that a high degree of historical specificity is intended in such drawings." If there were any doubt that the fleeing figures are soldiers, for instance, she noted such details as the trouser stripe on their legs and the side hammers on their Springfield carbines. In a collaborative study published in the Plains Anthropologist in 1997, the research team (archaeologist Doug Scott, anthropologist Peter Bleed, historian Andrew Masich, and discoverer Jason Pitsch) concluded that it "appears to present unprecedented historical information on the military interactions of Native Americans and frontier U.S. military forces."

    And in fact, in close analysis of the figures, historians have pointed out features that may, through research, yield with some exactness the identity of the warriors and of the event: the dropped bugle, the designs on the leggings and quiver, the markings on the horses, the length and style of the headdresses. Stylistic analysis will eventually name the artist. Glen Swanson argues that it is the warrior-artist Red Horse. See Swanson's description in G. A. Custer: His Life and Times, pages 212-213. Red Horse, as well as at least two other warrior-artists who fought at the Little Bighorn, used the Thunderbird "name glyph" which is inscribed, "signed," at the upper left of the scene.

    "The potential artists include some of the most important figures in Native American history," concluded Scott and his collaborators. "Likewise, the combat shown on the plate is specific and the number of battles that might be shown on the plate is finite."

    When he inscribed the plate in 1876, the warrior-artist was working on a clean and light surface, the inside of the spun brass kettle from which the metal was taken. Since its unearthing, Pitsch and its subsequent handlers have been careful not to disturb the dark patina it had acquired over more than a century. Except in slanting light, however, the graphic scene was difficult to appreciate. To photograph it effectively, Glen Swanson hit upon a simple expedient: he dusted the surface lightly with inert chalk to fill the incised grooves then softly brushed away the excess. The result was far more successful that he could have expected, and with its contrast between the white lines and the dark patina, the plate is visually stunning.

    The Red Horse Battle Scene is accompanied by relevant articles and maps, by letters from Douglas Scott and Peter Bleed, an appreciation and appraisal by Indian art dealer Conrad Angone, and a certificate signed by Jason Pitsch.
    From the Glenwood Swanson Collection.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2018
    9th Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 0
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 3,878

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