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6-B George Catlin, Catlin Painting the Portrait of Mah-to-toh-pa—Mandan, 1861/1869
Vera Tomilko


SKILLS COVERED: Analyzing primary sources, writing, comparing and contrasting, synthesizing, evaluation.


  1. Getting a thorough look and a better understanding on the diversity of American society
  2. Giving a better idea what history is and how it influences people’s life

SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES: Students will be able to:

  • Read and visualize events in Catlin's life.
  • Discuss historical events with respect to culture, time period, and location.
  • Relate to a historical figure and his/her decisions in a humanistic manner through writing journal entries.
  • Utilize visual aids in order to better understand historical narratives.

MATERIALS/VISUAL AIDS: Student’s Worksheets, Screen and Multimedia projector or a Smartboard, high-speed Internet access

Pre-task: it is highly recommended to read the article about George Catlin “Catlin Painting the Portrait of Mah-to-toh-pa–Mandan” in Picturing America Teachers Resource Book.
Now please answer the questions about the artwork we see.

  1. Have students describe the setting for the painting. What is in the front and center? What is in the left front? What is in the right front? What is in the background?
  2. Ask student’s to describe the chief’s dress.
  3. Who are the main characters in the painting? Why do you think so?

Content Introduction:
George Catlin, born in 1796, was an artist who became famous for his paintings of Native Americans and the Western landscape. To view these paintings and to learn more about Catlin, explore the web site http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/online/catlinclassroom/cl.html.
The timeline displayed under the "Catlin's Quest" section will be particularly helpful in learning about his life.

Activity 1:
Before students start their work on writing journal they need to get acquainted with some new words on their worksheets. This activity might take 10 minutes. They can work in small groups or with a partner. The task is using a dictionary to find a word that suits the definition that is given.

Activity 2. Begin by asking students to look at the "Catlin's Quest" campfire story on the website http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/online/catlinclassroom/cl.html.They should concentrate on looking at his paintings, reading passages from his letters, and looking at the timeline of his life. After acquainting themselves with Catlin's art, writings, and major life events, students should be prepared to write several journal entries. The students are given 15 minutes to explore the paintings, read passages and look at the timeline of his life.

Activity 2: Journal Writing. Divide the class into 4 groups. Each group should write a journal about the chosen artwork, to define which events in his life mostly influenced during that period. The students have 15 minutes to do this assignment.

Activity 3: Discussion
Host a wrap-up discussion in which students can share their journal entries or ideas about Catlin's quest and evaluate the events portrayed by their classmates in the skits (journals). The following questions may be asked:

  1. What elements from Catlin's time period, culture, and location may have influenced his decisions? Are these factors still relevant today?
  2. How did various decisions in Catlin's life affect his family? Sitters for his portraits? Historians today?
  3. How realistic to the time period and culture were the events portrayed in each skit?

Home Assignment:
Ask your students to write a journal about someone’s life whom they know good or familiar with (mother, father, parents friend, or even a neighbor). Make them tell the class about the biggest event in someone’s life which mostly influenced during that period.



n. a long communal dwelling of some North American Indians (as the Iroquois)


n. a tract of public land set aside (as for use by American Indians)


n. a detailed analysis of a person or group, especially as a model of medical, psychiatric, psychological, or social phenomena


adj. threatened with extinction


adj. of, suggesting, or suitable for a picture


n. a person from whom one is descended, especially if more remote than a grandparent; a forebear


n. a raised structure on which gifts or sacrifices to a god are made


n. an acute, highly infectious, often fatal disease caused by a poxvirus and characterized by high fever and aches with subsequent widespread eruption of pimples that blister, produce pus, and form pockmarks

case study

n. land having religious significance to Native Americans


adj. current, modern


n. a fundamental category of taxonomic classification, ranking below a genus or subgenus and consisting of related organisms capable of interbreeding

Indian Removal

n. the forced relocation of Native Americans from their homelands to areas designated by the United States government

Sacred Land

n. an extensive area of flat or rolling, predominantly treeless grassland, especially the large tract or plain of central North America


  1. www.wikipedia.org
  2. Oxford Dictionary of English, Revised Edition. Oxford University Press, 2005.
  3. Picturing America Teachers Resource Book, 2007.
  4. www.picturingamerica.neh.gov