The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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August 14, 2006

Minneapolis artist portrays 1800s painter with shared interests

Geister: ‘I like the idea of telling stories visually’

ST PETER — David Geister begins by telling the crowd that he was born in 1796. The crowd obliges, asking Geister about his days steaming up and down the Missouri River 170 years ago.

Sure, the 42-year-old Geister was portraying noted painter George Catlin, who traveled the country in the 1800s as an archivist as much as an artist, consumed as he was with saving American Indian ways on canvas.

But Geister’s portrayal isn’t all act. As a painter who also focuses on 19th century America, there’s not as much role-playing involved as one might expect.

“I like the idea of telling stories visually,” said Geister, a Minneapolis resident. It’s a way to “make the past seem less like the past.”

He was in St. Peter’s Treaty Site History Center on Sunday, describing Catlin’s life in person — and in costume — before about a dozen onlookers. He took momentary jabs at a half-finished painting, but it was mostly a historical performance.

In the early 1800s, Catlin left his lawyer’s practice, bought paint pigment and linseed oil to mix it with, then set out to catalogue American Indians in their element, free of the influence of white settlers.

Geister explained, through the persona of Catlin, that his mother and grandmother had been captured by the Iroquois. But they were treated well, and the experience left Catlin with a higher opinion of the natives.

If there was a theme to Geister’s performance, it was about perspective. Experiencing life from the American Indians’ view made Catlin an outcast among some of his peers. And one American Indian, he said, was deemed a witch and killed after bringing back tales about Washington, D.C.

Cheryl Heide of Good Thunder called the historical art aspect a “really interesting twist.”

There wasn’t much painting, but Geister had on display 20 of his works, watercolor and oil, from the era.

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