Reporters and Mythmakers: Depicting Virginia Indians

Oppdium Secota by Theodor De Bry (ca. 1590)

<em>Oppidum Secota</em> (The Town of Secota)

Oppdium Secota by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1590)

Again de Bry has taken White's scene and added detail: grass, giant sunflowers, roaming deer, and even a body of water. Historians have learned much from this image about Indian house-construction, the layout of Indian towns, and the variety of crops grown. Where White painted fields of corn at varying stages of growth ("newly sprong," "greene," and "rype"), de Bry adds a pumpkin patch. This embellishment was not an artistic liberty: Hariot explained that the Indians used such gardens "to sowe pompions."

De Bry is not content, however, with White's rendering of the dancers' gestures. A close comparison of the two images reveals that de Bry subtly adjusted the figures' postures so that they resemble not the "strange" gestures that White described, but the classical poses struck by the muses of Greek and Roman myth—poses that would be more familiar to European eyes.

Such was the relationship between White and de Bry: the former was the reporter, the latter the mythmaker. And if White's watercolors took on an almost scholarly tone, then de Bry's engravings might be seen as an attempt to market the product to a mass audience. For better or worse, de Bry's engraved interpretations of White's images served as many Europeans' introduction to Virginia Indian culture and had a persistent influence on Western representations of Indian life. By studying the work of both artists, we can better evaluate their authenticity.