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A Seth Eastman Sketchbook
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Introduction: About Seth Eastman

Capt. Seth Eastman
Minnesota Historical Society

Seth Eastman is considered a premier watercolorist of the Mississippi River landscape and the foremost pictorial historian of the Native American of the Nineteenth Century. Trained as a topographical artist, he used a "photographic" approach, painting what he saw rather than attempting to compose his picture.

Eastman was born in Brunswick, Maine in 1808 and graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1829. He was stationed at Fort Snelling briefly in 1830, and was married at that time to Stands-Like-a-Spirit, the daughter of Cloud Man, the leader of the Dakota settlement on the shore of Lake Calhoun in what is now Minneapolis. He returned to Fort Snelling in 1841 as a captain. He served there again from 1841 to 1848, for part of that time as the commanding officer.

About the Land and People

The lands around Fort Snelling east of the Mississippi were part of the original Northwest Territory that became part of the United States in 1783; those west of the Mississippi were in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Fort Snelling itself was only founded in 1820. Settlers from the eastern United States had not yet arrived, but a few trappers and traders from the U.S. and Canada were very familiar with the area.

East of the Mississippi, Wisconsin Territory was organized in 1836, and to the west, Iowa territory was organized in 1839. Minnesota Territory would not be organized until 1849, after these drawings were produced.

Wabasha
from "Indian Chiefs
of Southern Minnesota",
Thomas Hughes, Mankato, 1927
Red Wing
from "Indian Chiefs
of Southern Minnesota",
Thomas Hughes, Mankato, 1927

Of course, Native Americans had lived in the area for hundreds of years, and native nations still held claim to large areas in what is now Minnesota when Seth Eastman was stationed here. The Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands of the Dakota lived in the areas that are pictured in the sketchbook.

About the Sketchbook

These pencil sketches and watercolors were completed during the years 1838 to 1848. Several of the works are clearly identified as depicting areas near the Falls of St. Anthony and Fort Snelling. Others mention areas around the Dakota settlements led by Wabasha (Wabasha's Prairie, near today's Winona, Minnesota) and Red Wing, as well as the settlement of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

The Seth Eastman Sketchbook was originally purchased by the Minneapolis Public Library in 1957. To assist researchers in studying this fragile, rare book, monies from the Ella J. Salmon Gift Fund was used to have the individual plates scanned. From the production quality CD Roms, color negatives and Iris prints were also produced.

Seth Eastman,
Design for the Minnesota Territorial Seal, 1849

Minnesota Historical Society

A documentary on Eastman's work, produced by Twin Cities Public Television Channel 2, included images from this sketchbook. The producers also gathered footage from the holdings of Afton Historical Society Press (W. Duncan MacMillan Collection), the Minnesota Historical Society, the U.S. Capitol, West Point Academy, and the Peabody Museum at Harvard University.

 


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