Buffalo Bill is back in France! and to celebrate the 176th birthday of our book room’s namesake, which is 26 February we’re going to tell you about 2 exhibitions you might want to see. So grab some popcorn and keep reading. Popcorn? why popcorn? because Buffalo Bill introduced popcorn to France!
In fact there are THREE exhibitions this year, because 2022 is Rosa Bonheur’s bicentennial, that Bill & Rosa’s Book Room doesn’t want you to miss.
- Sur la piste des Sioux in Lyon features a section on the Wild West Show
- Buffalo Bill un Saltimanque venu de l’ouest is in Elbeuf which is a few minutes from Rouen
- And coming later this year is a Rosa Bonheur retrospective for the 200th anniversay of her birth. This expo will take place in Bordeaux, then in Paris. And because this is a historic anniversary for Rosa Bonheur there are many more events coming too. To give you a taste of what to look forward to: at the Château de Rosa Bonheur à Thomery By near Fontainebleau there will be two consecutive shows: Le musée des œuvres disparus et Rosa Bonheur intime and several books are being published. We’ll give you the details of those in a few weeks, right before her birthday on 16 March.
But let’s start with Buffalo Bill since his birthday is next week.
MUSEUM EXHIBITIONS including Buffalo Bill
The exhibition at the Museum of Confluences (an architectural masterpiece in Lyon at the confluence of the rivers Saone and Rhone), explores the representation of American Indians over nearly five hundred years. The exhibition describes how the image and stereotype of the Indian was built, in Europe and in France, while comparing it with the history and evolution of the Indian nations in North America.
One vector of the image of Indian cultures was the famous Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show which toured America and then Europe between 1883 and 1912. The Wild West Show brought an exotic foreign world to life, allowing a glimpse at the fading American frontier. The show brought authentic Indians, other performers and animals and staged them in stereotypical performances.
Buffalo Bill’s Sioux showmen were « Redskins » that did not play the good-guy roles giving the spectator the image of the savage bad guy dressed in feathers. Not all Indians wore feather headresses, but the Sioux did and they were quite spectacular. The image of the Indian in a feather headress was applied even in the 19th century to all Indians. Even the Apaches, like Geronimo, who wore nary a feather, wore such costumes as part of the Wild West Show because that was how Indians were supposed to look. For the record not all Indians lived in teepees, there are also wigwams, longhouses and pueblos, but our imagination places them all in teepees because of the stereotypes vectored by pop culture. The exhibition presents images of advertising, comics and then television which reinforced our view of the Indian . Over time the stereotypes evolve leaving the « bad guy » behind. In France, the wild Indian gives way to the caricatural clever Indian, Bison Futé, who guides motorists on the holiday routes and publicity summons Indian wisdom on food products. Then of course there is The Western which was actually started in book format in the 19th century, then in cinema in the 20th. The dime novel western was one of the earliest form of American mass culture. Today, the golden age of The Western having passed, the American Indian sterotype has taken on the role of leader against climate change and their wisdom of nature is considered the solution to the environment.
The exhibition features a remarkable collection of Lakota objects from collectors François Chladiuk and Didier Lévêque. Chladiuk purchased a trunk full of “Indian stuff” then tracked down the family that had owned the objects. He had the opportunity to travel to the United States and meet with the descendants of the Little Moon Family who had participated in the Wild West Show. In addition to Wild West Show costumes there are paintings, drawings, sculptures, cinema and literary inspirations, and the testimonies of the arrival of Indians in France in the 19th century.
Sur la piste des Sioux runs until 28 August 2022 at The musée des Confluences à Lyon https://www.museedesconfluences.fr/en
Buffalo Bill un Saltimanque venu de l’ouest
In a concurrent expo The Knowledge Factory of Elbeuf-sur-Seine presents a exceptional collection, never seen before in France, dedicated to Buffalo Bill as the circus showman. Thanks to the Borg collection, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show comes back to life with objects that belonged to Buffalo Bill, the Indians, the cowboys and to the orchestra. Posters, photos, costumes, and documents, trace the epic of the famous Colonel Cody who came to France several times. In 1889 during the Universal Exhibition he and his troupe were among the first to climb the Eiffel Tower.
For the first European tour in 1889 the ship SS Persian Monarch left New York with 600 performers and animal handlers plus bison and horses on board. From the port of Le Havre, the Wild West Show travelled to Paris by special train to settle in Neuilly on a huge piece of land rented at an exorbitant price. (Shows in later years were at the Bataclan.) Two shows per day provided 30,000 spectators the experience the American West. During this time Rosa Bonheur, Cody’s friend, was artist in residence at the Neuilly camp. There she painted her famous portrait of Cody on his horse (used on the poster at the top) as well as the animals and the Indians she loved. All of Paris went to the show: the French President, Gauguin, Munch, Sarah Bernhardt and of course the press. Then the show toured hundreds of cities in France, including Villeurbane (Lyon), Rouen (Elbeuf), Thouars, Toulouse, Marseille and the list goes on. They continued through the rest of Europe drawing huge crowds everywhere. The incredible spectacle of the American West met with unprecedented success. The modern western was born.
We learn from the exhibition that Buffalo Bill had great respect for his performers. The Indians were well paid, accompanied by their families and their living conditions reproduced, as comfortably as possible, their life on the plains. « One of the stars of the show was a woman: Annie Oakley, » said Mylène Beaufils, commissioner of the exhibition to Le Parisien, “many [women] were part of the troupe. He also considered that they should have the same wages as men. And towards the end of his life, he even campaigned for them to be granted the right to vote! »
A particularly interesting part of the exhibit is the commented slide show bringing together 40 photographic glass plates commissioned by Cody from a Parisian photographer presenting the show behind the scenes and the actors of the show in front of the Galerie des Machines at the Champ-de-Mars in June 1905.
Buffalo Bill un Saltimanque venu de l’ouest runs until 17 May 2022 at the FABRIQUE DES SAVOIRS, Elbeuf-sur-Seine https://lafabriquedessavoirs.fr/fr/informations-pratiques-6
DOCUMENTARY about Buffalo Bill
Want to know more about Buffalo Bill? Watch the documentary called Buffalo Bill, Place au spectacle! which was made by Gregory Monro, a passionné of the American West, in 2021. It is in French and very well done. The film gives both sides of his story the positive and the not so positive, because he like the rest of us has a mixed history full of glory but also foibles. Also included in the film is his friendship with Rosa Bonheur.
A must read: The Heartsong of Charging Elk by James Welch award-winning Blackfeet tribe author. Charging Elk, an Oglala Sioux, joins Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and journeys to the back streets of nineteenth-century Marseille where he is left behind in a hospital after a serious injury. He is forced to remake his life alone in a strange “land of the long bread”. This is a story of the American Indian that we have seldom seen: a stranger in a strange land, often an invisible man, loving, violent, trusting, wary, protective, and defenseless against a society that excludes him but judges him by its rules. At once epic and intimate, The Heartsong of Charging Elk echoes across time, geography, and cultures. Bill & Rosa’s Book Room lending library has a copy to borrow.