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Green-Wood Cemetery Honors Artist Who Chronicled Native American Life

GREENWOOD HEIGHTS — An artist who fought to preserve vanishing Native American culture in his paintings will now spend eternity next to one of history's most important American Indians.

Green-Wood Cemetery this week installed a six-foot sculpture of Black Moccasin, the Hidatsa chief who helped explorers Lewis and Clark as they ventured into the Missouri River basin, at the gravesite of the 19th Century artist George Catlin.

Catlin, who died in 1872, was buried in the landmark cemetery along with his wife. He was the first professional painter to go west, according to cemetery officials, and he spent much of his career chronicling the region's disappearing American Indian tribes.

His artwork is preserved today at major institutions like Washington D.C.'s Smithsonian Institution, but despite his vital role in preserving Native American culture, Catlin's grave was unmarked for almost a century after he was interred at Green-Wood.

Artist John Coleman created the statue as a tribute to Catlin, who he described as "the father of Western art."

The bronze sculpture, called "The Greeter," depicts Black Moccasin in his 70s, the age he was when he met Lewis and Clark. It was Black Moccasin who connected Lewis and Clark with their invaluable guide, Sacagewea, who eventually led the explorers to the Pacific Ocean.

Three decades later, Catlin met Black Moccasin and painted his portrait when the chief was believed to be more than 100 years old, or "more than a hundred snows," Catlin wrote in his letters.

The chief still remembered Lewis and Clark, and reportedly asked Catlin to "carry his regards to Clark in St. Louis."

"Just as George Catlin was committed to painting and recording Native American Indians, we at Green-Wood are committed to preserving and honoring the history and the contributions of those interred here," Green-Wood Cemetery President Richard J. Moylan said in a statement.

Catlin is one of many prominent Americans buried at Green-Wood Cemetery. The 478-acre cemetery is also the final resting place for 1980s painter Jean-Michel Basquiat and conductor Leonard Bernstein.