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FRANK RINEHART PHOTOGRAPHER EXTRAORDINAIRE

FRANK RINEHART PHOTOGRAPHER EXTRAORDINAIRE
White Whirlwind; a Sioux Indian; Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition; Omaha, Neb., 1898; 9 inches by 7 inches; sold for $858. Photo courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers.
Frank A. Rinehart was able to create and record with his camera one of the most remarkable visual histories of Native American culture at the dawn of the 20th century.

He was a commercial photographer and artist in Omaha, Neb., who was commissioned to photograph the 1898 Indian Congress. The Congress was part of the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition, the largest gathering of Native tribes to that date in history.

The idea behind the Congress was to show the everyday life and customs of as many Native tribes as possible.

That’s not quite what happened.

Promoters ended up erecting a 500 seat grandstand and staged the Native Americans in re-enactment battles. Managers also encouraged re-enactments of the Ghost Dance, one of the most popular attractions at the Congress. The Ghost Dance shirt of Big Foot was also displayed in another part of the Expo.

The Ghost Dance was basically a religious movement in various Native American belief systems. The prophet of peace Jack Wilson, known as Wovoka among the Paiute, prophesied a peaceful end to white expansionism in the West. He also preached clean living and cooperation between whites and Natives. Wilson claimed to have had a vision in which he was told if every Indian in the West danced this new dance to "hasten the event"; all evil in the world would be swept away, leaving a new Earth full of food, love, and faith.

For a photographer like Rinehart photographing the Native people was the opportunity of a lifetime. More than 500 Native Americans from 35 tribes were there. They included the Apache, Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Chippewa, and Crow. Geronimo and his lieutenant Nachie were also part of the group.

As the official photographer Rinehart took several hundred pictures, one of the most complete collections of Native American portraits known. The photos were taken in a studio on Expo grounds.

"Rinehart's portraits are really quite extraordinary and put him above the average workaday photographer who might have also made photographs for similar reasons,” said Merry Foresta, director of the Smithsonian Photography Initiative at the Smithsonian Institution. “There were other people working, but he seems to have really, because of the quality of his work, stood apart.”

Even though the portraits were staged and lighted in the studio, there is an intimacy about them that maintains the subject’s character and dignity, a quality not often seen in 19th-century ethnographic photography.

Rinehart used an 8 inch by 10 inch glass-negative camera with a German lens. He printed the photos as platinum prints, a medium known for its tonal range and durability.

From 1899 to 1900, Rinehart also traveled to different Reservations and photographed the Native Americans who were unable to attend the Congress. He shot photos of the everyday life and customs of the indigenous people. Some of the photographs were made into paintings and later into lithographs and sold.

Rinehart died in Omaha, Neb., on Dec. 17, 1928. He was 67.

On Sept. 24, Skinner Auctioneers in Boston, Mass., featured a selection of Rinehart’s photos in its American Indian & Ethnographic Art auction. Here are some current values.

Frank A. Rinehart Photography

Annie Red Shirt-Sioux; Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition; Omaha, Neb., 1898; 9 inches by 7 inches; $306.

Kills Enemy-Sioux; Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition; Omaha, Neb., 1898; 9 inches by 7 inches; $474.

Freckled-Face Arapahoe; Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition; Omaha, Neb., 1898; 9 inches by 7 inches; $652.

White Whirlwind; a Sioux Indian; Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition; Omaha, Neb., 1898; 9 inches by 7 inches; $858.

Chief Lick-Sioux; Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition; Omaha, Neb., 1898; 9 inches by 7 inches; $948.

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