Maximillian Bodmer Expedition

Bodmer captured the New Frontier with his art

I love photography, not primarily from an artist’s standpoint, but from a desire to capture what I see and experience. That’s one of the reasons why the Maximillan and Bodmer Exhibit in New Harmony impressed me so much. In 1832, Alexander Maximillian, a ruler of a small state in Prussia (which is now part of Germany) and also a scientist, set out to explore parts of the United States. His goal was to study as well as record what he learned about the scenery, animals and indigenous people in these unfamiliar lands. What made this exploration stand out to me was that he brought his own portable camera to capture these amazing landscapes and natives. Well, no, he didn’t actually bring a camera with him, not in the literal sense anyway. Polaroid Instamatics weren’t even invented at that time, and cameras of that period were definitely not compact. But he did the next best thing. He brought an artist with him, Swiss born Karl Bodmer, who was to document the entire journey with sketches and watercolor paintings!

New Harmony’s Centerpiece Church

Beginning in 1832 and for the next two years, Maximillian led an expedition primarily up the Missouri River towards the west. Before arriving at the river however, the group spent nine months traveling across the eastern United States from Maximillian’s entry point of Boston. As a result, one third of Bodmer’s sketches and watercolors were of the eastern U.S. and is a fascinating documentation of how civilization was transforming the new land. They spent time in Economy, Pennsylvania, where the Harmonists moved after selling their New Harmony, Indiana town 1824. Maximillian wrote in his journal how impressed he was of the orderly and practical town in the middle of wilderness.

New Harmony on the Wabash

Perhaps because of what he learned during his visit to Economy, PA, one of Maximilian’s main destinations in North America was of the Harmonist’s previous settlement in the west, the town of New Harmony, Indiana on the Wabash River. As mentioned before in a previous post, they sold the town to Robert Owen in 1824, but his attempt at a new social and scientific utopia failed within two years.

Diaries and Sketches

Because of illness, Maximilian was forced to spend five months in New Harmony during the winter of 1832-1833. Though Robert Owen’s dreams of a utopic society there were over, many scientists and educators remained in the town and Maximillian took advantage of the unique learning opportunities available to him during his convalesce.

Meeting the Minnitarees

Fortunately for us, this extended illness allowed for Bodmer to capture some great scenes of New Harmony as well as surrounding areas. He captured the serene town and centerpiece Harmonist church along the Wabash and the contrasting wild terrain nearby. Maximillian’s two-year expedition was a peaceful one for the sole purpose of learning and not conquering. Because of that, the people were cooperative and Bodmer was able to record some amazing scenes and portraits of native Americans, some of whom were completely wiped out in future battles.

Come and see the Exhibit!!

So be sure to visit the Maximillian Bodmer Expedition exhibit in located New Harmony’s Lichenberger Building. There are samples of Karl Bodmer’s great works of art as well as Maximillian’s journal entries describing what he saw as he explored the fascinating new frontier.

For more on photos of the Maximillian and Bodmer’s Expedition, go to Joslyn Art Museum.

This concludes my posts about New Harmony, Indiana, but there is so much that has not been discussed here. Please go to Shine’s Pictures for more photos of the town!

We will be traveling next to Europe!

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