Hall of Fame inductees are the pioneers, explorers and artists in America's river history. They were movers and shakers from the days gone by and the recent past. These men and women made significant contributions related to America’s rivers, which is why we honor them.
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Inducted in 2001
Catlin was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and he initially studied law, but later abandoned it for painting. Though he had virtually no formal training, his skill as a portrait artist was evident.
Catlin decided to dedicate his life to portraying American Indians, what he called the “vanishing race,” after he saw a group of visiting chieftains at the Charles Wilson Peale Museum of Natural History in Philadelphia in the 1820s. Catlin later wrote, “In silent and stoic dignity, these lords of the forest strutted about the city for a few days, wrapped in their painted robes, with their brows plumed with the quills of the war eagle, attracting the gaze of all who beheld them.” And so Catlin was inspired to paint and record the lifestyles of this race of people “rapidly passing away from the face of the earth.” By 1840, he had visited 48 different tribes, painted 310 portraits, and 200 other paintings.
Catlin, in 1832, was the first artist to paint the Missouri River as far as Fort Union at the junction of the Yellowstone and the Missouri. His paintings of the Missouri were often great panorama views that included Indian and animal life along the river. With his famous Indian Gallery, he also put the Missouri River and its vast surroundings on view for the first time in England and France where many people had never seen a steamboat or keelboat.