The Blackfeet of Montana
In 1998 while studying for my M.A. at University College London I discovered in the archives of the Wellcome Collection, London, the work of an American artist called William Langdon Kihn. In 1919 he had been commissioned to paint some of the tribes by Louis Hill, owner of the railroad company that built the Empire Builder railway line that travelled from eastern USA across to the West. Langdon Kihn painted several of the tribes during the 1920s and 1930s of which one was the Blackfeet of Montana.
I was curious to know if there were any descendants of the portraits living on the reservation today; I also discovered there were papers, letters and sketchbooks of the artist in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, New York. The Wellcome Trust awarded me a Travel Grant and in 2000 I made a first trip to the Blackfeet reservation with my children then onto New York and Connecticut where I met the artist’s (by then) elderly daughter, Phyllis.
On arrival in the USA we made the journey almost entirely by train on the Empire Builder from Chicago to East Glacier Village on the Blackfeet reservation, Montana. On the reservation I met with some of the descendants of the portraits. The first part of the written project, The Fine Line and the Broad Spectrum, for the Wellcome Trust is called Chase-Enemy-By-Water. This was completed in November 2000 and now in their library. The second part, Father Paint The Earth On Me, was my dissertation for the M.A.
All Blackfeet research
will be deposited in
a new digital database
Subsequent trips were made to the Blackfeet reservation in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. The result of these trips was a book of transcribed interviews with some of the descendants of the portraits and photographs. The MS for the book called Echoes and Voices of the Blackfeet of Montana, is completed awaiting editing before being ready for publication. Lack of funds to pay an editor delays this project by the year now. Some of the visual material was kindly lent to me by the families whom I worked with on this project. All material was returned to the families. Due to the significant colour photographic content of the book it has been difficult to find a publisher willing to invest in such a publication. An offer was made to publish without the photographs but I turned this down.
In 2005 I left the UK to live in southern Alberta, Canada where I was employed by an Albertan university as Lead Researcher on a C.U.R.A. [Community University Research Alliance] project in the Oral History component back on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana. This was funded by SSHRC [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council] in Ottawa.
With the help of a Blackfeet consultant I interviewed on film more than forty women elders and combat veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Panama and the first Gulf War in the tribe.
Alongside this I continued my own personal research with the Blackfeet for the book.
Photographs I took over that decade (2000-2010), of the reservation and the people, number three hundred plus.
The C.U.R.A. ended in 2007.