This highly finished watercolor is based on an earlier sketch Miller produced for Stewart’s album. Here, however, he has replaced Stewart with a single Indian figure, located to the left of the circles, and has added a third circle in the distance.
Although Miller’s accompanying note describes how their party was puzzled by the meaning of the circles, both the text and the watercolor are mainly focused on expressing what Miller saw as their frightening quality. Miller recounts how the trappers told his party of seeing similar circles made of human skulls. The artist’s note also compared the composition to the famously macabre Wolf Glen scene in a popular Romantic opera Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber. According to Miller, the scene, in which the protagonist unwittingly converses with the devil, was staged with skulls illuminated from within. Miller’s use of dark grays and blues with sharply contrasting chartreuse and white highlights creates an ominous atmosphere, as does the craggy tree and the alert horse, which looks out into the distance at something unseen. Thus text and image make clear Miller’s association of Native American ceremonial circles with the supernatural and the macabre.
The artist; William T. Walters, Baltimore, MD; present owner by gift