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Think Like a Curator: George Catlin and La Malinche

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This activity is designed for high school students for a unit on the Spanish Conquest of Mexico and Michael Wood's Conquistadors.

After working with primary sources from the point of view of Mexicas when the Spaniards first arrived in Mexico (from First Encounters: Native Voices on the Coming of Europeans edited by Howard B. Leavitt (2010)) and Bartolome de Las Casas' "Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies" (1552), students will curate their own gallery comprised of Catlin's depictions of white Europeans, Native Americans, and American landscapes and various artists' depictions of Hernan Cortes' translator La Malinche.

Students will engage with the questions about Malinche that have survived to modern-day Mexico: was she a victim of conquest, or a traitor who aided in the destruction of the Aztec culture? Students will also explore poems from Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands in considering the dual identity of Malinche and of the Native Americans depicted in Catlin's paintings.

The "Think Like a Curator" technique will guide students to place the artwork into categories, develop names for those categories, think about the order in which a museum visitor should encounter the artworks, what they would name the exhibit overall, etc. In this way, students will write their own story of La Malinche - do they want their museum visitors to walk away seeing her as a victim, or as a traitor?

Following the gallery creation, students will work individually to write a paragraph using the Claim/Support/Question thinking routine in response to one of the La Malinche paintings. Students will then share their paragraphs in small groups. This extension activity will allow students to further engage with La Malinche’s legacy after exploring different visual interpretations of her.

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George Catlin

National Portrait Gallery

Catlin as he appeared in London

Archives of American Art

Portrait of a Woman

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Portrait of Mary Catlin

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Portrait of Polly Sutton Catlin

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Portrait of Putnam Catlin

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Portrait of a Gentleman

Smithsonian American Art Museum

William Wilson

Smithsonian American Art Museum

William Clark

National Portrait Gallery

Kee-món-saw, Little Chief, a Chief

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Bread, Chief of the Tribe

Smithsonian American Art Museum

O'n-daig, The Crow, a Dandy

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Good Hunter, a Warrior

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Mi-néek-ee-súnk-te-ka, Mink, a Beautiful Girl

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Mandan Scalping an Enemy

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Self-torture in a Sioux Religious Ceremony

Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Last Race, Mandan O-kee-pa Ceremony

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Wichita Lodge, Thatched with Prairie Grass

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Buffalo Chase, Mouth of the Yellowstone

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Iron Bluff, 1200 Miles above St. Louis

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Landscape Background

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Landscape Background

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Landscape Background

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Weapons and Physiognomy of the Grizzly Bear

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Weapons and Physiognomy of the Grizzly Bear

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Portraits of a Grizzly Bear and Mouse, Life Size

Smithsonian American Art Museum

La Malinche

National Museum of American History