Picturing American Indian cultures: the art of Kentucky’s Frederick Weygold


  • Speed Art Museum 2035 South 3rd Street Louisville, KY, 40208 United States

Lakota artist. South Dakota. Eagle feather bonnet, about 1900.Eagle feathers, tanned deer hide, glass beads, horsehair, ermine, wool cloth. 81 1/2 × 31 1/2 × 27 in. (207 × 80 × 68.6 cm.) (installed).Museum purchase Conservation funded by The Alliance of The Speed Art Museum, 1999 1937.68.1

This comprehensive exhibition features highlights from the Speed’s American Indian collection, along with paintings, drawings and photographs by Louisville artist and ethnographer Frederick Weygold. Although Weygold’s work as an illustrator, photographer and collector of Native American art is highly regarded in Europe, he remains virtually unknown in the U.S. This exhibition offers for the first time a thorough account of this remarkable man and his achievements.

Born in St. Charles, Missouri, Weygold studied art and languages in Germany before settling in Louisville in 1908. In Europe (perhaps triggered by visits to Wild West shows), Weygold became fascinated with American Indians and, by teaching himself the Lakota language and acquiring a substantial knowledge of Native American cultures, he was able to act as an advisor to European museum directors.

In 1909, Weygold traveled to the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations in South Dakota, acquiring Native American artifacts for the Museum of Ethnology in Hamburg and documenting in photographs Native American life and culture, including the first photographic record of the Plains Indian sign language. He later used his ethnographic expertise to illustrate two books by the Dakota author Charles Eastman and two others by James Willard Schultz for a German publisher. Over time, Weygold built a personal collection of Native American artifacts he later donated to the Speed, which now forms the core of the museum’s collection.

Highlights of the exhibition include a dramatic, full-length eagle feather bonnet or headdress, a catlinite pipe bowl and stem purported to have belonged to the renowned Sac and Fox leader Black Hawk, an elaborate Lakota warrior’s dress ensemble that includes a beaded and painted shirt and accessories, examples of Weygold’s meticulous drawings of Plains and Woodlands Indian art and rare photographs of Native American subjects.

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