A Dance of Crow Indians, gouache on paperboard, 14 x 19 7/8 in. (35.3 x 50.4 cm.), Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio, Gift of Charles Dabney Thomson
By 1880, Henry Farny was a well-established commercial illustrator, and he began to devote more time to Native American subjects. Always an eager traveler, Farny made several trips deep into the heart of American West to gather imagery and firsthand knowledge of the mysterious and captivating area. "The West to which Farny traveled in 1881 was already becoming a nostalgic subject for Americans. The frontier officially ceased to exist in 1890; a transcontinental railroad had been completed in 1869 and most of the Indians had been confined to their reservations during the 1870s. While a few Indians, such as Sitting Bull and Geronimo, continued to fight white settlers with small bands of warriors, the majority of the Indians lived peacefully and dispiritedly on their reservations. The buffalo had already passed into legend by the time of Farny's visit." (D. Young, Henry Farny, New York, 1978, p. 21)
In Dance Crow Indians, Farny presents his audience with an intimate look at this unique Native American ritual. A tour-de-force of artistic techniques used to represent light and shadow, Dance of Crow Indians is a truly exceptional illustration. For instance, Farny has taken pains to articulate ceremonial costume and accessories of the dancers as well as the faces of each observer of this mysterious ceremony. The famous intercontinental railroad is represented in the background, with each window lit for maximum effect. The powerful bonfire successfully illuminates the composition, giving Farny the opportunity to weave together an intricate pattern of light and dark.