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A painted portrait of an Indigenous person wearing a headdress.

A painted portrait of an Indigenous person, who wears a white shoulder wrap, necklace, and a headdress.

Gallery Text

[Tah-Col-o-Quoit] was elected by intertribal council to represent the Athâwethiwa or Asakiwaki (People of the Yellow Earth; Sauk) and Meshkwahkîhaki or Meskwaki (People of the Red Earth; Fox) on a diplomatic visit to Washington, D.C. In his portrait, [Tah-Col-o-Quoit] chose to be represented in traditional dress with adornments and elements connoting their esteem and power. Wrapped in a greatcoat of soft buckskin, [Tah-Col-o-Quoit] wears a metal medallion, a headbandecked with claws and feathers, dyed hair, and carries a beautifully embellished “gunstock” club: a tool of great importance in hunting, war, and peace ceremonies. The lithographic and painted representations of [Tah-Col-o-Quoit] by Inman, Cephas Childs, and Charles Bird King arguably the most famous and most reproduced of the series.

I. Portraits Commissioned by the U.S. Government: Indigenous Delegates to Washington, D.C.

A portrait and its meanings are never stable. The work assumes the gaze of future generations and anticipates ongoing evaluation and reflection as new associations, lessons, and questions emerge. Between 1821 and 1834, ideology and federal policy created a portrait "event" that haunts Harvard University and the United States to this day.

In 1821, Thomas McKenney, head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the War Department, commissioned artist Charles Bird King to begin painting Indigenous delegates and tribal leaders who journeyed to Washington, D.C., in the hopes of reaffirming treaties and seeking redress. In actuality, McKenney wanted (in his words) "an Indian Gallery" as a record of "the aboriginal man" amid "the ultimate destruction which awaits his race." King produced around 160 portraits over nine years. Like President Andrew Jackson, McKenney promoted the romanticized notion of the United States as a territorial and ideological republic with a "manifest destiny" to extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. When Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law in 1830, the portraits were sent on a multicity tour, representing a nostalgic and inaccurate archive of a "noble race now passed."

In 1832, McKenney commissioned Henry Inman to copy King’s portraits. A fire at the Smithsonian in 1865 destroyed most of King’s paintings. The Inman paintings remain a poignant archive of the era’s sentiment and prejudice. In 1889, Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology was bequeathed 109 of Inman’s portraits in their original gilded frames.

Inman’s portraits after King provide us with a complex, diverse, and imperfect record. Some of the sitters wear western-style suits and display "peace medals" given by government officials. Some portraits seem to bear witness to sitters’ self-fashioning and their insistence on accurate representation. Others represent delegates in ensembles that indicate their navigation of, and relationship to, multiple cultures. Our sense is that King made sketches of the sitters’ faces from life and from eyewitness accounts. He later relied on memory or McKenney’s descriptions to approximate and "stage" the backgrounds and much of the delegates’ dress and poses. McKenney touted the portraits as typological tools to visually distinguish "civilized" tribes who had assimilated from "uncivilized" tribes. The paintings were intended to justify the forced displacement and removal of Indigenous populations from the eastern United States, serving as illustrations of those nations whose pride, prominence, and wealth were a threat.

II. Difficult Histories / Unstable Objects / New Meanings: Conservation as a Mode of Respect

In the 1930s, the Inman paintings were removed from their original frames and put into wood frames painted to imitate expensive veneer. The paintings were also cut from their original tacking and underwent excessive overcleaning. This permanent damage to the supports and paint layers repressed the identifying characteristics of the sitters and much of Inman’s celebrated brushwork. A second treatment in the early 1970s could not mitigate the degraded paint layers. In 1979, the Peabody deaccessioned the paintings. All but 27 were sold.

In 2019, a collaboration began between the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at the Harvard Art Museums and the Peabody Museum’s Collections Division and Conservation Department. Eight paintings were chosen to initiate an ongoing conservation and research project. Straus conservators have led these efforts in concert with doctoral studentsfrom the Harvard Art Museums’ Summer Institute for Technical Studies in Art (SITSA). Thanks to a team of faculty, staff, and students, these works are now being transitioned into the Harvard Art Museums collections. The stories of these objects are ongoing, just as the presence and experiences of Native persons in the Americas are ongoing.

Over the next few years, the revitalized portraits will cycle through these two frames in the gallery. In the accompanying labels, the sitter’s form of address attached to each portrait will be kept in brackets. We are doing this because the names were written phonetically from McKenney’s memory, with little care whether the name was a given name, a chosen name, or an awarded name, or if it was a ceremonial honorific or pejorative nickname given by U.S. officials.








Identification and Creation

Object Number
Henry Inman, American (Utica, NY 1801 - 1846 New York, NY)
[Tah-Col-o-Quoit (Rising Cloud)], Asakiwaki/Sauk Warrior; representative of the Sauk and Fox coalition
Other Titles
Former Title: [Tah (sha)-col-o-quoit], Sauk and Fox Delegate
Work Type
c. 1832-1834
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2200, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, The Emergence of Romanticism in Early Nineteenth-Century France
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
74.9 x 63.5 cm (29 1/2 x 25 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Mark Hollingsworth and Edmund I. Tileston (Hollingsworth and Tileston Paper Company); to Edmund P. Tileston and Amor Hollingsworth; gift of their heirs to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 1882, transfer; to Harvard Art Museums, 2023

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, gift of the heirs of E. P. Tileston and Amor Hollingsworth, 1882
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • William Garrott Brown, A List of Portraits in the Various Buildings of Harvard University, Harvard University Library (Cambridge, MA, 1898), p. 40
  • A Festival of Western American Art at Hirschl and Adler, October 12-November 17, 1984, auct. cat., Hirschl & Adler Galleries (New York, 1984), p. 18, no. 2-43
  • Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. and Melissa Renn, American Paintings at Harvard, Volume One: Paintings, Watercolors, and Pastels by Artists Born before 1826, Yale University Press (U.S.) and Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge and New Haven, 2014), pp. 29, 296, cat. 255

Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 2200 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/14/2022 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • ReFrame

Verification Level

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