About the Exhibition

George Catlin was among the earliest artists of European descent to chronicle the massive herds of buffalo roaming the Great Plains of the American West. In many works, Catlin portrayed how truly imbedded the great mammal was in the daily lives of American Indian tribes. His brilliant canvases show how the buffalo was used in multiple facets of daily life, from food and shelter to ceremony and naming. Catlin noted that without some greater measure of restraint on the part of advancing settlers, the buffalo would soon be eradicated from the plains. He called for the establishment of a “nation’s Park” set aside from development as a refuge for both buffalo and native tribes. His vision came true, in part, in 1872 with the foundation of Yellowstone, the world’s first national park.

George Catlin’s American Buffalo presents 40 original Catlin paintings accompanied by informative label copy exploring his representation of the Native American/buffalo relationship. Catlin’s role as an early proponent of wilderness conservation and national parks will also be examined. This exhibit is located in the Gilcrease and Changing Visions Galleries.

This is a traveling exhibit. Participating Museums include:

Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Springs, California (October 1, 2013–December 29, 2013)
Wichita Art Museum in Wichita, Kansas (February 1, 2014–May 11, 2014)
C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana (May 31, 2014–Sept. 14, 2014)
Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando, Florida (October 4, 2014–January 1, 2015)
Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston Salem, North Carolina (February 12, 2015–May 3, 2015)
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas (May 30, 2015–August 30, 2015)


"George Catlin’s American Buffalo" is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in collaboration with the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Many generous contributors helped support the exhibition, catalogue, and tour. Mary Anne and Richard W. Cree and Lynn and Foster Friess made generous donations to the exhibition. The William R. Kenan, Jr. Endowment Fund and the Smithsonian Council for American Art provided support for the publication of the catalogue.  The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program, "Treasures to Go".