Appeal to the Great Spirit
Cyrus Edwin Dallin may have settled in Boston, where he spent most of his artistic career, but he was a child of the American West. Born to white pioneer parents in Utah, Dallin grew up among Native Americans, specifically, members of the Ute tribe. During his childhood, he began sculpting small figures and animals out of clay—a pastime introduced to him by his Ute neighbors. Even after moving to Boston in 1880, and later pursuing his studies in Paris, Dallin remained interested in Native American themes. One of his earliest successes was the sculpture Signal of Peace, which Dallin showed in a Paris exhibition in 1890. Not yet thirty years old, Dallin had already established his reputation as perhaps the finest sculptor of Native American subjects, known for his nuanced, un-stereotypical depictions.
Like Signal of Peace, Appeal to the Great Spirit features a Sioux chief on horseback. Here, though, the chief’s arms are spread wide in a gesture of surrender, and he appears to be asking for spiritual assistance. Who has defeated this chief, and possibly his entire people— a group of white settlers, aiming to uproot the Native Americans from their homeland? Dallin leaves the story open-ended, although in his personal correspondence, he frequently expressed sympathy for the Native Americans and disgust with their mistreatment at the hands of whites and the US government.
This sculpture won a gold medal at the Paris Salon on 1909. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts then raised the funds needed to buy the work. Although Appeal to the Great Spirit has become an icon of American art, Dallin’s best-known work in Boston is probably his sculpture of Paul Revere, located in the North End. A museum to the artist can be found in Arlington, Massachusetts.