The mid-nineteenth century fascination with the ‘cult of domesticity’ made images of women as mothers and homemakers popular fare for sentimental literary magazines and genre paintings. Miller capitalizes on this interest by adding an ethnographic twist, including numerous images of women and children in his commission for William T. Walters.
Although many of the images sweetly portray young, pretty mothers with chubby-cheeked infants in cradleboards, Miller’s written commentary on Indian motherhood presents it in less sentimental terms. He speculated that transportation in cradleboards means, “[t]hese children …meet with a great deal of rough usage, and very likely only the most vigorous survive it.” Yet he notes that “[i]t must not be inferred that the Indian mother is devoid of natural affection,” since he has witnessed them crying “just like other ‘absurd women kind’ when their children are threatened.
Here the mother presents her infant, held in a cradleboard, for the viewer. Visible in the shadow behind her is a second small child. According to Miller, the structure beside her is a temporary lodge made of bent twigs covered in blankets. In the distance, a woman tends meat smoking over a low fire.