Born in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, George Catlin became the first American artist of stature to visit and depict the Plains Indians on his own volition, and he spent about eight years traveling among the 48 North American Indian tribes including to Alaska. His sketches and paintings are the first and most important record of land west of the Mississippi River before white settlement. Catlin also recorded Indians in South America. Catlin was commissioned by Samuel Colt, the gun maker, to paint 'firearm paintings' which Mr. Colt had made into prints to promote his industry.
Catlin's childhood was in New York and Pennsylvania, and he heard much about Indians as a child because his mother had been captured by them when she was a girl. The family also had numerous visitors who had traveled the frontier and whose stories intrigued him.
In 1817, he began the study of law at Litchfield, Connecticut and taught himself to paint portraits, mainly prominent politicians. Until 1823, he practiced as a lawyer in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. But finding art more interesting, he moved to Philadelphia where he was encouraged by his artist friends Rembrandt Peale, Thomas Sully and John Neagle.
He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and then went to New York to the National Academy of Design, where in 1824, he was also elected a Member. In the six years before he headed West, he painted portraits of Indians on reservations in western New York.
Catlin traveled the plains region during the summers until 1836 and returned East in the winters to get more money for his ventures.
Catlin's work was well received in Europe, but in America, interest lagged until after his death. After his death a majority of his work was donated to the National Museum.
George Catlin died in 1872 in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
Robert Taft, Artists and Illustrators of the Old West
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Alfred Mac Adam, "Arms and the Man", Book Review, Art & Auction, June 2006, p. 122