"George Crofutt, publisher of a fashionable western travel guide series, commissioned the creation of 'American Progress' by the Brooklyn resident, painter, and lithographer, John Gast. Crofutt reproduced the petite painting, done in 1872, as a color lithograph poster and also engraved the image in the guidebooks he published widely circulating the image. The painting depicts a sense of technological development's advancement upon the untamed land like the coming of an impenetrable, inevitable militia with one uncharacteristic exception––the company is led by a feminine figure.
In the wake of four years of Civil War, the creation of the promotional material of 'American Progress' portrays a spiritualized feminine that provides nurturing, protective guidance and fortitude for the extension of civilization over wilderness and the 'uncivilized,' the enigmatic, and the primal. Disembodied, the idealized feminine portrays the evolution of the split of spirit from daily life as well as the sanctified superiority of the immigrants above human beings who lived in harmony with the spirit of the land.
The dominating and centralized angelic being's paradoxical innocence and sensually alluring presence has the effect of distracting and softening the reality and the violence of this movement to 'win the west' where Native Americans depart the frame as non– natives stake claims in the form of prospectors, as settlers: farmers, homesteaders, and travelers. One of the popular artists of the times, Maynard Dixon speaks of the untruth of the romanticized representation of facts as he complained he was being paid to lie in his artwork and portrayals of life on the wild prairie (Dixon).
Fueled by an underlying desire to be free from tyrannical government and the prospect of a new life and livelihood in a world new to them, Euro–Americans manifested suffering and persecution similar to the very situation they sought to escape."
(Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism)
Fig.1 John Gast (1872). "American Progress", painting: oil
"The [Aotearoa New Zealand] Maori origin myth describes a world of darkness locked in the unyielding embrace of Ranganui, the Sky Father, and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother with all their children (sea, forest, land, mountains, wind and rain) trapped between them. This inertia was shattered by Tane Mahuta, god of the forest, when he forcefully separated Papa and Rangi, thus liberating his siblings as well as their future descendants, freeing the light, and catalyzing the procreation of all life forms. Processes of differentiation and proliferation were then set in motion bound by mauri, the life force, imparting character (so that birds are birds and fish are fish), and uniting the physical and spiritual."
(Suzanne MacAulay, 'Field Aesthetics', Gathering/Place: Folklore, Aesthetic Ecologies, and the Public Domain)
Fig.1. Chris Matatahi & Peter Plumb. 'Maui's Dwelling Place', 1 metre tall. The whalebone is 79 cm long and 40 cm wide at the furthest points. The greenstone face is 21 cm tall and 13 cm wide at their furthest points. The base is NZ kauri wood and greenstone. Three paua pearls are inlaid in the upper area of the whalebone.