A Closer Look at Art of the American West

When you first walk into Art of the American West: Highlights of the Haub Family Collection from the Tacoma Art Museum at the Lightcatcher building, you’re met with a brilliant, colorful painting depicting a Native American man. Next, your gaze falls upon a portrait of another Native American man painted in 1851 by Paul Kane. If you look closer, something else may catch your gaze: two large medals affixed to the sash on the chief.

A patron looks at “Portrait of Maungwudaus,” c.1851 by Paul Kane (1810-1871). Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in. Courtesy of the Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub.

Art of the American West

The man depicted in this painting is Maungwudaus, meaning great “hero” or “courageous,” (known by his English name, George Henry). He was born circa 1807 on the shore of Lake Ontario and was an Ojibwa interpreter, performer, and Methodist mission worker.

In 1844, he formed a traveling Native American dance troupe. The troupe included members of his family and several Walpole Island Ojibwa. They traveled to Britain, France and Eastern North America to perform. Maungwudaus had the chance to perform for royalty such as King Louis Philippe of France and the king and queen of Belgium.

During the troupe’s 1845 performance for King Louis Philippe I, Maungwudaus was given a gold medal. Five years later, he was awarded a silver medal from U.S. President Zachary Taylor.

More medals

But the portrait of Maungwudaus isn’t the only one of a Native American man with medals. A nearby portrait shows a Native American man in ceremonial dress. He is holding a feather-endowed pipe, with three peace medals hanging around his neck. The man in the portrait is Naw-Kaw, a Winnebago chief. The portrait is circa 1832 by artist Henry Inman.

Peace medals were awarded by the U.S. government throughout the early colonization of the Americas up until the late 1800s. The medals were awarded to Native American tribes or individuals after almost every formal interaction with the government. The medals served as a way of promising the prospects of peace and trade. For many tribes, being awarded a medal held great pride. These medals were sometimes passed down from generation to generation.

While the medals conveyed a sense of importance and respect, controversy surrounds their use in building relations between the U.S. and Native Americans. Some tribal leaders were critical of US peace medals and their effectiveness in negotiations.

The portraits are only one piece of Art of the American West exhibition. The exhibition gives you a vivid look into the diverse land of the American West.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant


Edgar Payne (American, 1883 – 1947); Desert Clouds, circa 1930; Oil on canvas; 20 x 24 in. Courtesy of the Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2015.29.11.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 5, 2017; Bellingham, WA—This fall, the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash., will present 75 artworks on loan from the Tacoma Art Museum, featuring works of western American art, including bronze sculptures and paintings. Art of the American West: Highlights of the Haub Family Collection from the Tacoma Art Museum will be on exhibit at the Lightcatcher building September 30, 2017 – January 7, 2018. This collection of western American art is unrivaled in its scope in the Pacific Northwest.

“Western American Art is enjoying a huge resurgence in the country,” said Patricia Leach, Executive Director of the Whatcom Museum. “This is the first time the Haub Family Collection is on loan from the Tacoma Art Museum, and we believe this exhibition is going to ‘wow’ our visitors.”

Art of the American West includes prominent nineteenth-century artists who influenced views of Native Americans, mountain men, cowboys, and pristine American landscapes, including Henry Inman, Paul Kane, John Mix Stanley, and Charles M. Russell. From the twentieth century, the exhibition includes artists who brought modern art movements west and who explored western history and American identity, such as Maynard Dixon, E. Martin Hennings, Robert Henri, and Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as artists who are active and working today. Contemporary Native American artists John Nieto and Kevin Red Star take a fresh approach and portray Native American culture in a modern light, and pop artist Bill Schenck uses humor and satire to challenge long-held assumptions about the American West.

The artworks in the exhibition examine ideas of American identity over time, delve into storytelling and myth-making, and explore the vast American landscape. Visitors will see how concepts of the West, both real and imagined, have continually changed and evolved, and still influence people today.

“Tacoma Art Museum is thrilled that the Haub Family Collection is traveling to the Whatcom Museum. The 75 works in the exhibition span nearly two hundred years of American art history and are sure to impress visitors who can explore the portrayals—both real and imagined—of our iconic region,” said Faith Brower, Haub Curator of Western American Art at Tacoma Art Museum.

About the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art
In July 2012, Tacoma Art Museum announced the largest gift in the museum’s history by Erivan and Helga Haub of 295 western American works of art from their private collection. The donation has transformed Tacoma Art Museum into one of the leading museums in the country featuring western American art. The collection enables the Tacoma Art Museum to fully explore the art history of the West. Together with its Northwest collection, the museum offers a comprehensive understanding of the Northwest region as part of the expanded history of the West, and illuminates how that broad history has shaped regional artistic responses. For more information, visit

Art of the American West: Highlights of the Haub Family Collection from the Tacoma Art Museum was organized by Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Wash. This exhibition is supported by Mary Summerfield & Mike O’Neal, Patti & Frank Imhof, Sue Lobland, the Whatcom Museum Advocates, the Whatcom Museum Foundation, and the City of Bellingham.