The Song of the Talking Wire, 1904, Henry F. Farny (American, 1847–1916), oil on canvas
One of Cincinnati’s most celebrated painters, Farny specialized in depicting American Indians of the Plains region. The Tafts purchased this oil directly from the artist, reflecting their interest in supporting Cincinnati’s artists. Widely reproduced, it was remembered at Farny’s death as his masterpiece. Farny painted it in his studio using a model, sketches, and artifacts collected on trips to the West. Some seemingly authentic touches are less than accurate, such as the buffalo robe, which is a woman’s garment. Nonetheless, Farny’s image speaks eloquently of the conditions of its time, when free-ranging, independent cultures were being crowded into reservations. The Sioux hunter’s bewilderment as he presses his ear to the telegraph pole together with the wintry backdrop of setting sun, buffalo skull, and deer carcass slung across the horse suggest the devastating encroachment of European-American society on indigenous peoples.