Green-Wood Cemetery Honors George Catlin

A painter known best for his works featuring native Americans, the late George Catlin was honored recently at Green-Wood Cemetery with a monument created by a modern sculptor depicting one of Catlin’s most famous subjects.

Entitled “The Greeter,” the statue of Black Moccasin, the chief of the Hidatsa Indians who greeted renowned explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their 1804 exploratory voyage of the American West, was modeled by Arizona sculptor John Coleman on a nearly two-century old depiction of Black Moccasin by Catlin.

It was unveiled on July 28 with great ceremony, to coincide with Catlin’s 216th birthday, two days earlier.

“This is another great day for us here, honoring one of our residents,” said Green-Wood President Richard Moylan.

Catlin, born in Pennsylvania in the year 1796, was originally a lawyer who went on to teach himself how to paint and defined himself when he took on the role of self-nominated historian of the indigenous population of North America.

While Catlin explored his art, in 1830 moving to Missouri and joining expeditions that ventured all over the American West, Green-Wood was making a name for itself as well.

“Green-Wood became quite a magnet for people but also a magnet for sculpture. If you wanted to see sculpture in the mid 19th century in New York City you came to Green-Wood cemetery,” said Jeff Richman, the cemetery’s historian. Among the many sculptures in the cemetery are works by such renowned artists as Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

The latest sculpture adding to this rich tradition came about as the result of a chance meeting. Moylan, as a new board member of the National Sculpture Society, attended a society meeting in 2009 in Boulder, Colorado, where he visited the Leanin’ Tree Museum and saw an “amazing, heroic size Indian chief” sculpture. The artist was John Coleman.

It wasn’t long before Coleman agreed to sculpt a monument to honor Catlin. He toyed with the idea of re-creating an existing piece, but soon decided to present a new sculpture to Green-Wood to mark Catlin’s grave properly.

“To have this whole thing culminate to this point is beyond an honor and beyond awe-inspiring for me,” said Coleman. “I really don’t have the words to describe it.

“To know that I’m connected somehow now to this man,” he marveled. “It’s a very, very wonderful thing.”

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