Anon. [for THE WORKING MEN'S EDUCATIONAL UNION]
A Native American in the wilderness
London : The Working Men’s Educational Union, n.d. [circa 1854]. Coloured lithographic wall hanging printed on calico, 1180 x 890 mm, wet stamped lower right ‘PUBLISHED BY WORKING MENS EDUCATIONAL UNION / 43, SKINNER ST. SNOW HILL LONDON / 1852’, and ‘M 11’; original brass eyelets at each corner; old folds, light staining at upper left and centre, lower section with a few scattered stains and a small hole, two short tears at upper left edge; else a good example, the hand colouring still strong and vibrant.
The Working Men’s Educational Union was a philanthropic organisation founded in London in 1852. One of its aims was to provide free education for the working classes through public lectures at numerous venues across the city. During the 1850s it published at least 400 different large format lithographic wall hangings, which it called ‘Diagrams’, that were designed to illustrate lectures on a wide variety of subjects. They were produced on calico (inexpensive, unprocessed cotton) – apparently to avoid paper duty – and were available for purchase at the Union’s premises in Skinner Street, Clerkenwell and King William Street, near London Bridge. In 1854 the Union advertised a series of these Diagrams titled Missionary Scenes, ‘Being twenty coloured Diagrams upon Missionary Trials, Perils, and Insults, Heathen Superstitions, Cruelties, etc. ; suited for Missionary Lectures. Price, to subscribers, £1 10s., to non-subscribers, £2 5s’ (advertisement contained within the pamphlet The progress of locomotion; being two lectures on the advances made in artificial locomotion in Great Britain, by Benjamin Scott. London, Published by F. Baron, for the Working Men’s Educational Union, 1854).
It is likely that the present Diagram, of which we can trace no other extant example, formed part of this Missionary series. Indeed, it seems reasonable to posit that the ‘M’ preceding the sequence number ’11’ at lower right stands for ‘Missionary’. Although its artist is unidentified, the image is possibly after a published lithograph, perhaps one which appeared in a journal such as the Illustrated London News.
The Native American figure in the lithograph probably depicts a Plains Indian with body and facial tattoos, wearing a skirt-like garment of animal hide and with feather decoration in his hair. He appears emaciated and exhausted, a woven basket and a drinking gourd both lying empty on the bare ground beside him. He has erected a temporary shelter of animal skin stretched over three branches to give him some respite from the sun, although he seems resolved to die. In the left background, a pack of coyotes or wolves wait ominously.