Joseph Mason Reeves Jr., son of Admiral Joseph M. Reeves, was born in Washington D.C. in 1898. After spending his youth in various cities around the world, Reeves attended the University of California, graduating in 1917, where he studied art under C. Chapel Judson. He continued his formal art education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Corcoran Gallery before naval service in World War I interrupted his studies. When the war ended, he remained in Europe studying at the Académies Julian and Colarossi in Paris and The British Academy of Arts in Rome.
Reeves returned to the United States in 1923 and worked as a portraitist in New York and Norfolk, Virginia before moving West to San Rafael and San Francisco. Finally settling in Los Angeles, Reeves served as President of The Artists of the Southwest as well as The Painters and Sculptors Club, and was a distinguished member of the California Art Club, Los Angeles Art Association and Laguna Beach Art Association. His portraiture was exhibited widely in Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as in Paris and London.
In Medicine Man, Reeves paints a purely American subject within the constructs of academic portraiture. Reeves' careful rendering of detail can be seen in the quill-work on the figure's headdress and the patterning on the vest, but also in the very personal portrait of the sitter. Medicine Man is an outstanding example of the artist's work that combines Reeve's mastery of portraiture with his profound love of the West.