St. Louis native Oscar Berninghaus began his art career learning the lithography
trade at the age of sixteen. This training emphasized drawing skills that
would serve the artist well throughout his career. Berninghaus also took
classes at the Washington University School of Fine Arts, and in 1899, with
a growing reputation in St. Louis as an illustrator, he received a commission
from the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad to travel west on their trains and
produce artwork that would attract tourist trade to the railroad and the
west. Over the course of this trip, Berninghaus spent a week in Taos, where
the artist became infatuated with the scenery, the people, and the unique
quality of light that brought everything to life. He began spending summers
in Taos and in 1913 he banded together with five other artists to form the
Taos Society as a means of promoting their artwork through traveling exhibitions.
The Society was a success, and Berninghaus’ reputation as a painter
of western life was assured.
Throughout his career Berninghaus depicted America's native peoples with
a respectful honesty and a frank admiration. He appears to have realized
the historical importance of recording these lives accurately to preserve
them for the education of future generations. Even so, considering the
late date of this painting, it is clear that Berninghaus occasionally
looked back at the lives of Native Americans through a lense tinted with
romanticism and nostalgia. The calm, quiet composition, and the peacefully
floating canoe speak more to the better times past than to the conditions
for Native Americans in 1910.