James Otto Lewis

Birth: 1799


James Otto Lewis (February 3, 1799 - November 2, 1858) was an American engraver and painter who was noted for his portraits of Native Americans and other figures of the American frontier. Lewis was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., in 1799. Lewis began his engraving career in Philadelphia about 1815. He went west in 1819 and began traveling with Gov. Lewis Cass of the Michigan Territory while the U.S. Government employed him to paint portraits of Indians from 1823 to 1834. Acting in his official role during the 1820s, Lewis attended numerous Indian treaties and ceremonies held in Indiana and Wisconsin where he began to take portraits of many of the participants.

In 1826 Thomas L. McKenney who was the superintendent of Indian Affairs accompanied Gov. Cass on one of the official trips into. McKenney became a very important figure in Lewis's career when in 1827 McKenney's Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes... containing twenty-nine engraved or illustrated images, with the majority of them appear to be by Lewis, although he is not credited on any of the plates. His work is identified by both the many references to the artist's work within the text and the style of his images.

It was during the 1827 trip which Lewis and Cass took to Lake Michigan to negotiate with the Winnebago and Chippewa Tribes that 25 portraits were sketched at Prairie du Chien. Of the 80 plates in the final Aboriginal Port Folia, the remaining 9 were sketched at Fort Wayne, 13 at Green Bay, 12 more from Fond du Lac, 12 more were from "Massinnewa" (expedition in 1826) with the remaining 3 from unidentified locations.

Based on his drawings and paintings of treaty ceremonies between 1825 and 1828, Lewis published The Aboriginal Port Folio in Philadelphia between 1835 and 1836. Lewis also contributed portraits to the History of the Indian Tribes of North America collection. Although not specifically credited for his Works, the majority of the plates in Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes... are probably after Lewis. Lewis' work is held in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He died in New York City, New York, in 1858.

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