Like many of the celebrated cigar store Indian carvers working in nineteenth-century New York, John L. Cromwell (1805-1873) began his career as a shipcarver. Born in Massachusetts, Cromwell moved to New York in 1831, where he set up his shop at 179 Cherry Street. For approximately twenty years, he ran a successful business filling orders for figureheads and other carvings to adorn ships. He employed many apprentices, including Thomas V. Brooks (1828-1895), who went on to establish his own shop and is regarded as one of the most talented carvers in his own right. With the decline of maritime industry, Cromwell turned to carving shop figures in the 1850s, with cigar store Indians being the predominate figures he produced.
The present lot, with its well-preserved surface, is one of Cromwell’s most celebrated models, called variously a scout, hunting chief, or ‘Captain Jack,’ and described by Frederick Fried as “a Mohawk warrior with a roach or scalplock on his shaved head. His raised right hand held a tomahawk and the left hand clutched a catamount robe or a bearskin pelt slung over the shoulder. A stylized headdress of feathers was added, and the figure standing with the right foot forward was placed on a small platform with wheels." (Artists in Wood (New York, 1970), pp. 180-181)