On the map of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is this marvelous sculpture, simply identified by a small black circle with a white number 20 in the middle; a notation in the legend provides that number 20 relates to the grave of George Catlin, “Painter of Indians”. As I stood at the cemetery entrance planning my route using the map, I hadn’t given this legend note anything more than a moment’s consideration. I was preoccupied with a finding a few of my favorite pieces (it had been quite a few years since I last visited Greenwood, in the daytime…but that’s a story for another day....).
Later that afternoon as I was driving toward the exit, I spotted the top of the sculpture – it was so unusual that I pulled over to investigate. I checked the map, guessed that I was seeing number 20, and climbed the hill to see the piece in total. It was while standing in awe in front of this piece, (full name, The Greeter, Black Moccasin Meeting Lewis and Clark), admiring the intensity and detail, practically expecting him to breathe, and it’s placement in this cemetery instead of a museum, that I knew I wanted to learn more. Not about the painter that it honors, but the artist, John Coleman, who created it. According to the plaque affixed to the base of the sculpture, Mr. Coleman considers himself a story teller working in three dimensions to create “a visual mythology written by my hands and spiritual imagination.”
According to an article in the July 2012 issue of Western Art Collector written by James H. Nottage, Mr. Coleman created the piece to honor Mr. Catlin “for the degree to which he had inspired him.” Mr. Catlin gathered stories and created paintings of Native Americans starting in the 1820s (he died in 1872). The sculpture “serves as a metaphor for a life well-lived. [To] remind us all of personal and spiritual obligations we have toward those who are friends, teachers, or sources of inspiration.” According to Green-Wood, when the sculpture was dedicated on the 216th birthday of Mr. Catlin, descendants of the Native American’s that Mr. Catlin memorialized were in attendance…how incredible is this story of honor, history, and love through time?!
You may often scratch your head as to my love of cemeteries, but nowhere else are such beautiful and sincere representations of passion so evident….our modern lives may seem quite tangled at times, but if you need a pick-me-up, go to the cemetery - your faith in what truly matters will be restored….