Category Archives: Art History

In the Gallery: The Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

If you ever make it to Oklahoma City make it a point to visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Formerly the Cowboy Hall of Fame don’t let its name and location fool you, there is something for everyone inside the gates.

 The Cowboy Museum, as it is known by its shortened name, has more than just cowboys and rodeos. Some of the finest western art–both historic and contemporary–is collected here either in their permanent collections or in the yearly contemporary exhibits which contain pieces that you can purchase if you are on the high end of art collecting.

The historic pieces are exhibited in galleries that do not allow photography, but through there website you can get a few teasing examples such as Bierstadt’s Emigrants Crossing the Plains, and Alfred Jacob Miller’s Cavalcade is there as well, in addition to Audubon’s eagle and catfish.

Emigrants Crossing the Plains, Albert Bierstadt

Cavalcade, Alfred Jacob Miller
 There are enormous collections for Frederic Remington and Charles Russell works, including a single casting Remington made for a patron, and a rifle that belonged to a friend of Russell’s. After complaining about a bad day of hunting Russell took the rifle and etched bear, elk, and bison onto the receiver and told him “Now, you’ll always have fresh meat in sight.” Remington’s arch-nemesis Charles Schreyvogel has an gallery as well. At one point Remington came out in the newspaper criticizing Schreyvogel’s painting Custer’s Demand about numerous points of fact. One of the men depicted in the meeting and Custer’s widow spoke out for Schreyvogal’s authenticity and the Remington dropped the matter. In the collection/archives at the Cowboy Museum there is a letter that President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Elizabeth Custer claiming that Remington “Had been a perfect Jack” about the whole thing. 
If you are more into sculpture the museum has you covered. There are scores of bronzes from those mentioned above, but their larger than life pieces are worth going to see. You are greeted by Hollis Williford’s Welcome Sundown. 

  

Once inside James Earle Fraser’s iconic End of the Trail is your first experience. This is the original plaster cast that Fraser created in 1915. It was meant to be cast into bronze but the First World War brought a metal shortage so it remained in this form. It was moved to the Cowboy Museum in the 1960s and to its present location during the update and renovation of the museum in the 1980s. Fraser is also famous as the artist that designed the American “Buffalo” or “Indian Head” nickel. 

 Fraser’s Abraham Lincoln is also housed in the Cowboy Museum, along with a reminder that Lincoln was more than just a Civil War and Emancipation president. With his signature on the Homestead Act in 1862, he opened the floodgates to the West. A million families of settlers flowed in the “empty” west before 1910.

There are also several monumental sculptures around the grounds that are also quite stunning. Below are a few, but you can see the rest here.

There is plenty of room inside for sculptures of this size indoors as well. Canyon Princess by Gerald Balciar is a beautiful animal piece made of the same marble as the Lincoln Memorial no less. 

If you are looking for a more authentic and actual cowboy experience not provided by art or art history there are numerous galleries filled with all kinds of cowboy gear from bits and bridles to chaps and brands. If you want to know anything about the 4,283,836 (completely made up number, but there are A. LOT.) of barbed wire (pronounced “bobwar” in many counties) then this is the place for you. 

There are by far more than two saddles, but you will need to go yourself to see what it is you are looking for.

If the TV and film west was more a part of your childhood than actual cowboy work, you won’t be disappointed in that collection either. Their memorabilia runs from the earliest western films up through the fairly recent. Including a short little film narrated by Sam Elliot (who else?) describing the history of “The Western.”

                      
                              James Arness’ Marshall Dillon wardrobe
Marshall Dillon’s hat. 

Festus’ saddle 
Gunsmoke Props

                     
                             Chess Knight of Silver on Paladin’s traveling gun. 

One of a few, they said the one that was actually wired with lights came with burn holes in it. 

Tom Selleck’s saddle and outback hat from Quigley Down Under

                       
                          Sam Elliot, Conagher, Louis L’amour book/movie

Daniel Day-Lewis There Will be Blood

As I mentioned above one of the neatest things the museum does if the continuation of the western art tradition by hosting new large galleries filled with modern american west artwork. Even the artwork in the gift shop is stunning.

Photography is not allowed in this exhibit, but thanks to the winnings being posted online I can share a couple of my favorites and a page on the artist that made them. I have always liked the anachronistic, mismatched, or false grouped images. Anything where it shouldn’t be and imagined meetings of several famous people playing horseshoes or something have been the images that I have gravitated towards in modern context. My two favorites in this past exhibit do both. Martin Grelle’s In Two Worlds is one of those iconic native in white clothing images that we are all familiar with. Most of the top hats I saw before studying the Gilded Age were worn by Native Americans.

In Two Worlds, Marin Grelle, see it and more here.
One that got a full HA! as I saw it was Bruce Greene’s Wall Street From the Saddle Seat. I love it not only because it used that same trope, but because it turns the myth into the native. Civilization has come to the cowboy. Even the romantic ideal has started to vanish. 
Wall Street from the Saddle Seat, Bruce Greene, see it and more here

The Cowboy Museum houses more than you think, more than I thought for sure. We’ve lived a half hour a way for two and a half years and only went this week as part of my Art History class. It was worth the wait not only to see what was there, but to go through it with my professor who was the director there from around 1986 to 1996. He said that moving Fraser’s End of the Trail to its present position was “The longest day of my life.” They moved it all in one piece by crane over trees and through a giant window. Moving it was the quickest part, it took two hours to get it off the original pedestal and balanced properly in the crane straps and four hours to get it installed on its new pedestal.  When it was shipped to the museum in 1968 it was cut in to 5 or 6 pieces and rebuilt. 
There is much more to do in OKC than really meets the eye. Many people miss things like this because it is flyover state. If you happen to be in the area add this museum to your itinerary. If you are looking for something new to see or a new place to visit, make it a stop on your cross country drive. It’s worth it. Only this historical galleries are static, and there is always something going on there with artists’ talks and new exhibits. 
A final thought is I can never go into any kind of museum that features galleries of art of any kind and not think about the Dire Straits song In the Gallery. I hear it even more loudly in a space that highlights western art because the first line is “Harry made a bareback rider, proud and free, upon a horse…”It is definitely something to think about especially in a place that contains paintings of the American West from the 1830s and paintings and sculpture still being created about the same subject. 

Karl Bodmer: Exacting Expeditionary Artist

When I looked back through my posts to study for my midterm exam, I realized that I had neglected a post on Karl Bodmer and his patron Prince Maximilian. I intend to remedy that here, and give a few examples of how exacting and detailed Bodmer’s work was. If you appreciate it for no other reason, you should at least respect its authenticity.

Karl Bodmer (February 11, 1809-October 30, 1893) in 1877
A lifetime after his expedition with Prince Max 

Bodmer’s story really begins with Prince Max. A German aristocrat (his grandfather was a ruling count), he soon fell under the mentorship of Alexander von Humboldt. Following his mentor’s trailblazing adventurous style Prince Max led a scientific expedition through Brazil from 1815-1817. When Max begin his work in Brazil, Bodmer was back in Zurich at the tender age of 6.

Prince Max returned to the Western Hemisphere in 1832 where he organized a two year expedition in the Great Plains along the Missouri River. This time the young Bodmer was the official artist for the expedition and his works would accompany the official report of the expedition written by Prince Max in 1840. Prince Max’s journals have been published in their entirety–three enormous volumes–and you should definitely get your hands on them, whether borrowed or bought, they are an absolute thrill to read.

Prince Max (September 23, 1782-February 3, 1867)

Below are a a few samples of Bodmer’s work. You can see the attention to detail especially in the collections of artifacts that he reproduced in two dimensions. Even more so when he painstakingly recreates the native artwork that was part of the skin, bowl, or quiver.

Offering of the Mandan Indians  
Buffalo Dance of the Mandan

Magic Pile of the Assiniboin Indians 

Mouth of the Fox River from Travels in America 

Horse Racing of the Sioux

Noapeh, Assiniboin Indian

Sih-Chida and Mahchsi-Karehde, Mandan Indians

“Road Maker” Minatarre Chief

Mato-Tope Mandan Chief 

Mato-Tope print

Pehriska-Ruhpa. “A Minatarre of big-bellied Indian”

Collection of artifacts collected during the expedition

Pehriska-Ruhpa, Minnatarre Warrior in the Costume of the Dog Dance

The Dog Dance is probably one of the most recognized or famous of Bodmer’s collection. It is stunning. There is a fantastic collection of Bodmer’s work that was an accompanying text for a Bodmer exhibit at the Nordamerika Native Museum Zurich back in Fall 2008. It is called Karl Bodmer A Swiss Artist in America 1809-1893. That is another one you will want to at least interlibrary loan if you get a chance, because the used copies on Amazon are $500 and the new one is listed for $1893.58.

If you would like to see some Bodmer works in the flesh the largest of three known collections of Bodmer’s work lives at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska of all places. They also have the original Maximilian Journals that “are a centerpiece of the Joslyn collection, accompanied by his collection of over 350 watercolors and drawings by Karl Bodmer.hey alYou can see more written about the Maximilian Collection by clicking here and scrolling about halfway down. 

Maximilian Journal Image Source

Interesting evening addendum: You find some interesting things wen you look for stuff to put into a blog post. I stumbled across this documentary created back in 2010 called Bodmer’s Journey. I have not watched it so I can’t speak to its quality. It is hosted through vimeo here for a $2.99 year long rental, or you can purchase it for $20 through Amazon. Here is the trailer: 
There is also a chap that gives a presentation as though he is Bodmer himself. I have seen one of these before about John Audubon, and this one is not bad, especially for it to be filmed in shorts. 


Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley

The year is 1851, you make your way through the streets of Philadelphia to a small theatre where scores of other interested parties are milling around waiting to be allowed in. You deposit your 25 cents for admission (12.5 cents for any children you have in tow) and make your way inside. The din of attendees drown out any discernible conversation as everyone finds their place before the show starts. For weeks printed advertisements have been calling this something you did not want to miss. Not only will they be displaying a full moving of the Mississippi River but it will be accompanied by the eminent Dr. Dickerson’s lectures which were “by themselves worth twice the price of admission.”

Advertisement for Dickeson’s Scientific Lectures. Source.
The good professor (and medical doctor, no less) records his own opening of over 1,000 Indian mounds and boasts a collection of over 40,000 relics recovered from his excavations. Center stage of the theatre (sometimes special built to display such panoramas) sits an enormous muslin painting nearly 8 feet tall and nearly 14 feet long. The full length of this particular panorama is 348 feet and will be wound through as Dickeson lectures literally moving down, or up the river. The panorama is so large that instead of “rewinding” the show after every performance the matinee show would feature a trip down the “Father of Rivers” and the evening show would work in reverse going upstream.
John J. Egan; Marietta Ancient Fortification; A Grand View of Their Walls, Bastions, Ramparts, Fossa, With the Relics Therein Found, scene one from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

The lights dim and the spotlight hits the panorama and you begin your trip down the Mississippi River led by Dr. Dickeson whose stories, both scientific and anecdotal, would be accompanied by music and in some instances smoke effects to get a more authentic feel of a steam powered paddlewheel boat. These were not only the precursor to movies, but to those 4D experience rides that some museums have today. The images are not only impressive for their size, but the vividness of color and superb detail.

Scene 1 Detail 
The scenes seamlessly pass as Dickeson narrates the journey highlighting the Indians, their villages, customs, accouterments, etc.
John J. Egan; Circleville Aboriginal Tumuli; Cado Chiefs in Full Costume; Youths at Their War Practice, scene two the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 2 Detail 

 

Scene 2 Detail 
John J. Egan; Hanging or Hieroglyphical Rock; Colossal Bust at Low Water Mark, Used as a Metre by the Aborigines, scene three from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 3 Detail
John J. Egan; Portsmouth Aboriginal Group in a Storm, scene four from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
Scene 4 Detail
John J. Egan; Cave in the Rock, Stalagmitic Chamber and Crystal Fountain, Desiccated and Mummied Bodies in Their Burial Places; Magnificent Effect of Crystallization, scene five from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
Scene 5 Detail

 

Scene 5 Detail

 

Scene 5 Detail

 

Scene 5 Detail
 John J. Egan; Terraced Mound in a Snow Storm, at Sunset, scene six from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
John J. Egan; Twelve Gated Labyrinth, Missouri; Indians at Their Piscatory Exploits, scene seven from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

 John J. Egan; Bon Hom Island Group; Distant View of the Rocky Mountains; Encamping Grounds of Lewis and Clark, scene eight from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:195
John J. Egan; Louisiana Swale Group, with Extensive Wall; Lakes and Sacrificial Monuments, scene nine from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
 
John J. Egan; Natchez Hill by Moonlight; Indian Encampment; Distant View of Louisiana; Indians Preparing Supper, scene ten from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 10 detail 
If you will notice, now the skies have started to darken. Slow, dark, and deep music begins to play ominously and suddenly a storm is crashing upon the audience with all the appropriate theatrics as the next scene rolls with the destruction wrought as a tornado touches down.
 John J. Egan; The Tornado of 1844; Destruction of Indian Settlements; Horrid Loss of Life, scene eleven from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
Wind and rain subside but the dangers of living around the river are no less under friendlier skies. This is where I image great melodramatic music a-la Dudley Do-Right begins to play as this man flees for his life from wild animals, in this case wolves.

 

John J. Egan; Louisiana Squatter Pursued by Wolves; Humorous Scene, scene twelve from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Does the squatter make it to the safety of his cabin? Only Dickeson’s notes say for sure.
John J. Egan; Prairie with Buffalo, Elk, and Gigantic Bust on the Ledge of a Limestone Rock; Spring Creek, Texas, scene thirteen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
Scene 13 Detail 

 

Scene 13 Detail 

 

Scene 13 Detail 
ohn J. Egan; Fort Rosalie; Extermination of the French in 1729; Grand Battle Scene; Mode of Scalping, scene fourteen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

This is one of the only hard breaks between scenes. Which may have been done on purpose to show the hard line between warfare and more peaceful, pastoral, and placid parts of the trip.

 John J. Egan; Chamberlain’s Gigantic Mounds and Walls; Natchez above the Hill, scene fifteen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

John J. Egan; Indians at Their Games, scene sixteen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

John J. Egan; Baluxie Shell, Mounds, scene seventeen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
ohn J. Egan; Ferguson Group; The Landing of Gen. Jackson, scene eighteen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

Scene 18 is the only that is currently on display with the Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River exhibit at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

Scene 18 Detail 

 

Scene 18 Detail

 

Scene 18 Detail

 

Scene 18 Detail

 

Scene 18 Detail
The Magnolia churns up the river as passengers take in all the surrounding natural wonder. This ship would have been well known to Dickeson’s audience as the one that chugged the eminent geologist Charles Lyell along the Mississippi river. Snags, cypress knees, swamps, and decidedly large alligators line the banks and the river bottom, while the going is good, this isn’t an effortless river cruise along the Rhine, or Seine.
John J. Egan; Lake Concordia and Aboriginal Tumuli, scene nineteen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 19 Detail 

 

Scene 19 Detail
The following scenes are my personal favorites as they begin to detail Dickerson’s actual excavations of the Indian mounds along the river.
John J. Egan; Huge Mound and the Manner of Opening Them, scene twenty from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
Scene 20 Detail

 

Scene 20 Detail

 

Scene 20 Detail

 

Scene 20 Detail
Scene 20 Detail
The stratigraphy in these mounds is portrayed brilliantly. The panorama was painted by John J. Egan, an Ireland-born American artist specifically commissioned by Dickeson to paint his lectures based on his sketches from the field which he produced between 1837 and 1844. With that in mind, I believe that Egan has put Dickeson here sketching the mound as slaves (I assume) do the actual excavations.
 John J. Egan; Cado Parish Monument, scene twenty-one from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
ohn J. Egan; De Soto’s Burial at White Cliffs, scene twenty-two from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 22 Detail

 

Scene 22 Detail
Now, I knew about Dickeson’s panorama, and I even know that there was many ethnological and archeological aspects to it. I didn’t realize they were this detailed and I was surprised further still as I watched the digital scenes scroll passed on the monitor next to the display. Scene 23 caught me fully unaware and had a full jaw dropping moment.
John J. Egan; Mammoth Ravine; Exhuming of Fossil Bones, scene twenty-three from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

There were fossils! Enormous bones being excavated from the sides of a ravine running along the Mississippi River. Not only were they isolated bits and pieces, but giant skeletons, nearly complete. Rendered so well by Egan that they are obviously giant sloths. This image also ties Jefferson’s (incorrect) original description of the claws of this type of animal and the beautiful painting by Charles Wilson Peale Excavating the Mastodon. The details are breathtaking.

Scene 23 Detail

 

Scene 23 Detail

 

Scene 23 Detail

 

Scene 23 Detail

 

Scene 23 Detail
John J. Egan; Temple of the Sun by Sunset, scene twenty-four from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 24 Detail

 

Scene 24 Detail 
Scene 24 is the last with full landscapes on it. A pensive Indian looking over the mound, and based on mound for scale, what is affectionately known in professional circles as “a big damn snake.” It is interesting to note here that this Indian nearly reflects, or at least faces those that started us off on his journey.

 

Whether this is just coincidence, or whether Egan, or Dickerson for that matter, are framing 300 feet of muslin cotton might be debatable, but it does show the vast variety of native life and ethnography that spans the river.
You can almost see this one saying “The End” of “Fin” 
John J. Egan; Blank Scene, scene twenty-five from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 25 Detail

 

Scene 25 Detail
Now, you have come to the end of your river travel and heard the thrilling tales of adventures running the river, exploring caves filled with rock art, and excavating Indian burial mounds collecting along with the doctor various and sundry artifacts. This was just one of many of these types of education and entertainment that was touring during the 1850s. It is the LAST one that exists that tours the Mississippi River. It lives at the St. Louis Art Museum which is where they host these images here. As I mentioned before it is on display at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Ft. Worth until January 18, 2015. The Navigating the West exhibit then moves on to St. Louis and from their to New York and the MET. The Amon Carter had to build a special contraption to display this as the device that St. Louis has was too heavy to stay on the second floor exhibit in Ft. Worth. They aren’t sure it will go to the MET as they don’t want to deal with the logistics. Luckily this is painted on muslin and only weighs around 220lbs (100 kilos) according to one source I looked at. Here is a short time-lapse of the installation at the Amon Carter:

 

There is a great interview regarding the conservation work on this panorama here. Other than being labeled rather vulgarly a “steampunk movie” it is worth a read if to just get a sense of scale of the painting images such as these:

 

 

If you are more interested in the particulars of the artwork itself and not just the images portrayed on it, there is some of the history of rediscovery and first conservation work on the glue based paint and other particulars here.
The St. Louis Art Museum also offers a pdf of the panorama image sheets that you can access here in case you want to look at them in a manner other than blog form. We’ve looked at a lot of individual scenes as they would have been rolled, unrolled, and rolled again. But, you have to remember that this is one image that is nearly 350 feet long. I have no idea what that would look like stretched out, or where you would even exhibit it, but SLAM has shot them a few scenes at a time to get a rough feel.

 

 

 

 

Dickeson gave his panorama and artifacts to the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania in 1899. Some of the artifacts that were in that collection are most likely portrayed in one or more of the scenes of his panorama, which may be at least part of a research trip over there. The St. Louis Art Museum purchased the panorama from the university museum in 1953, but it did not go on display until just a few years ago.
This is by far, one of the most unique pieces of Americana that exists in the world. It reveals much more than just the scenery along the Mississippi River Valley, it is a consummate artifact that embodies the history of art, the history of science, and American history. If it does nothing else (and it does so very much) it serves to remind us that the mid 19th century was a much more dynamic and interesting time than we are likely to give it credit. After all, it was filled with such oddities as the traveling moving panorama lecture which could take you on a Mississippi River cruise anywhere that the work could be displayed.
If you would like more heady readings on this panorama, and others,here are some good places to start:
Luarca-Shoaf, Nanette. “Excavating a Nineteenth-Century Mass Medium,” American Art, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Summer 2013) pp. 15-20
Luarca-Shoaf, Nanette. The Mississippi River in Antebellum Visual Culture. PhD. Dissertation University of Delaware, 2012. Specifically Chapter 4 “Currents of Time on the Lower Mississippi: M.W. Dickeson and Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley” pp. 170-239.
Lyons, Lisa. “Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley,” Design Quarterly, No. 101/102, The River: Images of the Mississippi (197) pp. 32-34
Update 10.23.14 New Video from the Amon Carter on the Panorama itself:

 

Bingham Redux: Navigating the West at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art

This weekend I had the opportunity visit the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Ft. Worth, Texas. If you are ever in the vicinity make room for a stroll through Ft. Worth’s Cultural District over to Camp Bowie Street and visit. Carter’s bequest that set up the museum after his death has made it possible for the museum to maintain FREE admission to this world class installment of American Art.

The museum itself is really easy to get to from the freeway. I-35to I-30 and then Montgomery Exit, turn right, a couple miles through the “Cultural District” past the fields where they have the horse shows, the American Quarter Horse News building, the Museum of Natural History, and a right on Camp Bowie and the Museum is on the right. They have a modest-sized parking lot but get there early and you have no problem finding a spot. 
They also generously allow photography of their collections which is quite helpful in teaching art of the American West. Amon Carter was one of those “self-made men” that you often hear about. His philanthropy with this museum will always be a lasting tribute to his life. 
The staff, docents, and volunteers are all quite friendly and have an intimate knowledge of their collections, especially their Frederic Remington and Charles Russell collections of which I will write about more in a later post. 
Two floors consisting of 20 galleries sounds cramped, but it is surprisingly open and allows for pretty free movement in and out of the exhibits. Being part of the Texas Museum tradition the museum is built with fossiliferous limestone. 
General Layout for the galleries, surprisingly spacious for a smaller museum.


This, the Bierstadt, the Catlins, the Cole, all the Remington and Russell pieces, and the one Alfred Jacob Miller and Bingham in the permanent collections are reasons to visit. The Navigating the West George Caleb Bingham special exhibit is reason to go before January 18, 2015.

An interesting correlation is the modern photography exhibit on the (northern, more urban part of the) Trinity River near Bingham’s early river scenes. Growing up in Southeast Texas I can, without exaggeration of hyperbole, safely say that there are people that live on the southern run of the Trinity that look exactly like some of the folks that Bingham painted over 150 years ago. 
This is the only time I know of that all the river paintings have all been in one place. They are on loan from places you may have heard of like the National Gallery and the MET. Two of his nocturns (night paintings) are included as well as his large Dusseldorf painting. Bingham’s sketches are included near their finished pieces which is a treat to see not only the technological process but the artist’s process as well. To take that even further they have infrared scanned all the images to be certain what sketch went with what painting (and with Bingham that was usually more than one). They have included digital overlays of those scans which have revealed not only subtle changes in composition, but things like trees and ship’s masts being removed from the finished images we now see. 
There are examples of the prints that were made by the American Art Union as well as other printmakers later. Go and see this. It leaves Ft. Worth and goes to the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM–no, really SLAM) and then ends at the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art. Seeing it before all the artsy folks in New York should be enough reason to go. 
The exhibit also includes the LAST panoramic display painting of a Mississippi trek. On loan from St. Louis this enormous (nearly 350 feet long) piece that was part of a traveling lecture entertainment series is one of the best things about the exhibit. I am piecing together a full post on it because it was commissioned by an amateur archaeologist and is filled with wonderful images of Indian burial mounds and excavations along the Mississippi River. Displayed with music and lecture and sometimes smoke for the steamship, think of this as the zenith of mid nineteenth century 4D experiences. 

I hope you get a chance to go through the exhibit. I was lucky enough to go through it with the curator, Dr. Nenette Luarca-Shoaf, which made it even more powerful. Her work with Bingham, rivers, and science and art is certainly a new direction that I hope my own discipline is going. Follow her on Twitter and listen to an interview/podcast here.
If you live in Ft. Worth and have never visited the Amon Carter Museum, you should be ashamed. There, right down the street is not only a fantastic museum, but a lasting tribute to someone who used their wealth for education and betterment of a community that he loved dearly. So it is the least you can do to thank Mr. Carter for his forward thinking and generosity. 
Whether you are into art or not, you may recognize the name. The Amon Carter Museum is only three and a half miles from the Amon G. Carter Stadium at TCU. Hundreds of people from the University I attend was in Ft. Worth Saturday as well visiting Carter Stadium instead of Carter Museum. OU lost to TCU 37-33. 
Posthumous portrait of Amon Carter.
My most heartfelt thanks to Mr. Carter and his family for offering this to Ft. Worth in particular, but to the American people in general. It was a pleasure and delight to visit, and I hope to get back there again. 

Update 10/20/14: Amon Carter added a video overview to youtube provided by the other curator of the exhibit: Watch it here:

The Grand Landscape Pt. 2: Thomas Moran

The second part of the grandscape troupe (of which there are more than two, really) features Thomas Moran. Moran was born in England but became one of the most identifiable and popular members of the Hudson River School. He started as an engraver but found it tedious, worked in watercolor, and later produced some oils on the same scale as the ones we saw with on the Albert Bierstadt post. He shared a studio with his marine artist brother Edward and became an illustrator for the popular magazine Scribner’s Monthly. 

Thomas Moran February 12, 1837-August 25, 1926

 Moran is one of those artists that resound with me for reasons beyond, but still directly related to, his art. Moran was part of Ferdinand Hayden’s Yellowstone Expedition for the USGS. Geology and the History of Science and expeditions are one of the reasons I have become so involved in and with art of the American West. Having spent my honeymoon in Yellowstone, Moran’s rendering of places I have seen make it even more fun. As well as understanding that he was first and foremost an artist, you must understand how essential his works were in helping establish Yellowstone as the national park we all know and love today.

The Golden Gate

 The images that Moran painted were not true representation of nature, but an amalgam of the best of what he had seen. He also had the added benefit of traveling and working with the expedition’s photographer William Henry Jackson. Essentially a realist with romantic tendencies Moran never painted a true transcription of Yellowstone, but moved the scene and stirred the emotions. The artist and the photographer worked together, the photographs setting the realism and the painting and color setting the romantic tone that sold the idea of the park to congress.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (6’x10′) 

 Moran was highly influenced by an earlier English painter J.M.W. Turner. Turner’s use of light is echoed in many of Moran’s oils if not his watercolors. Luckily Moran stopped just short of the full dissolution into pure light that marked Turner’s later work.

Joseph Mallord William Turner April/May 1775-December 19, 1851

The Dogona and San Giorgio Magiore  Turner-1834

Norham Castle at Sunrise Turner-1835

Rain, Steam, and Speed-Turner 1844

You can see how Moran captured Turner’s view of the importance of light without dissolving his paintings into just light. A useful adjustment for someone that was working with a western expedition trying to sell the west to congress for parks and to the public for tourism. Incidentally, there is a new biopic coming out this year (2014) that follows Turner’s turn to painting the purity of light. I was looking forward to it before I knew that Moran was influenced by Turner, now I think it might be even better.

Back to Moran. The photography and the art proved that the boiling mudpots, the geyers, the kaleidoscope of colors in the hot springs and mineral waters were far more than just the tall tales of the mountain men and trappers. In addition to helping establish the park Moran was more successful than Bierstadt at acquiring the coveted governmental patronage. Why did Moran succeed where Bierstadt floundered? They had both been on expeditions, and Moran did his best work when he was on his own, but it was the type of expedition that he went on that gave him a more trusted authority. Moran had been an expedition member on a USGS expedition, that is he was a commissioned United States Geological Survey Artist. Most of his work at one time or another hung in the Department of the Interior of the United States and he sold 2 for $10,000. 
Grand Canyon of Arizona from Hermit Rim Road

Shoshone Falls on the Snake

This is one of my favorite Moran’s, and one of the few I have gotten to see in person. I have included this as it is displayed in the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK. Go there if you ever get a chance, it is worth the diversion from whatever you are doing near there. This is how they were originally displayed with a place to sit and contemplate the immensity of it all as well as soak up the details. Another perspective on visiting the Gilcrease and the source of these images here.

Shoshone Falls on the Snake River*
*This is a cropped image. Open it in a new tab if you can to get a better detail of it. The original is huge and this photo does it little justice, but savor the view because this part of the Snake River has been dammed and these falls no longer do so.

One of the most striking images to come out of the Rocky Mountains was direct evidence that God was on the side of, and heartily approved of, Manifest Destiny. The Mount of the Holy Cross was thought to be only myth and legend and had never ben captured on canvas or film. As the snow melts natural crevasses in the side of the mountain that, it must be noted, was devilishly tricky to get to, was a blazing  (literally) snow white cross in the side of the mountain. Both Moran and Jackson caught it.

Mount of the Holy Cross 
Mount of the Holy Cross 

The images are striking, and definitely prove to those hearty enough to make the trek that God is still on your side. In fact he has been waiting for you out West. 
Mount of the Holy Cross Photograph by William Henry Jackson

 If there was any doubt that the cross existed in physical form and not just in the mind of a romantic landscape painter the expedition’s photographer William Henry Jackson’s handiwork put those to rest. In stark black and white he captured God’s giant thumbs up to westward expansion. It was this type of pairing–the photograph and the artwork–that sold the area to those holding the pursestrings in Washington.

As I mentioned before Moran did his most striking work when he was on his own independent trips out west. His connections with the railroad and friendships with the promoters for the Santa Fe Rail Road led to a degree of freedom of travel that any artist would have killed for. His promoter friend ensured Moran had a free pass anywhere the Santa Fe line ran, paid the Moran family’s Harvey House tabs Harvey Houses were Santa Fe hotels along the line), and took care of most of the bookkeeping and other logistics that allowed Moran unparalleled freedom and safety in the west. All this for agreeing to allow the Santa Fe Railroad to hold copyright on one of his works (and of his choosing) to use in their advertising campaign. In reality is was a win-win situation if ever there was one in the annals of art patronage.

Moran never lost his touch, and even in later years used light to greatly impact both the painting and the viewer.

Acoma (1903)

In Acoma we see Moran treating the Indians as Bierstadt had done, just as any other wildlife in the nature scene. More than that we see them riding into an uncertain future and disappearing into the dust cloud and then into landscape itself. His 1913 Venice is as close as he ever went to giving up form to pure light as Turner had. It is refreshing to see someone still working in the style of his original influence even late into his career and life. 
Venice (1913)

In a fun, if ironic twist Moran and the Hudson River School have been recently honored with their own USPS stamps. Moran, more or less, has retained a connection with his governmental patronage while it is funny to see artwork that is originally six by ten feet reduced to the literal size of a postage stamp.

 It might also be worth mentioning that, even in death, Bierstadt has missed out on another production for the American government. With that in mind, and in celebration of a long life full of creative vigor, travel, exploration, never ending romantically tinged realism, this image of Moran enjoying a cigar in 1912 seems the most fitting way to end this 2-pack of the Grand Landscape.


The Grand Landscape Pt. 1: Albert Bierstadt

With the millions of bytes of internet storage dedicated to the work of Albert Bierstadt, there is little I can say here about him that wouldn’t be said better elsewhere, what I will do is collect a few of his works here in order that I can easily scroll through them when I need a quick reminder of the quintessence of the Dusseldorf School.

Albert Bierstadt January 7, 1830-February 18, 1902

Albert Bierstadt was born in Germany in 1830, but his family moved to Massachusetts soon after. He later made a return trip to study art the in Dusseldorf under Emanuel Leutze (Washington Crossing the Delaware fame) before coming back and becoming one of the more theatrical members of the informal Hudson River School of painters. His paintings are lavish, glowing, and imposing. Giant works filled with ominous light and shadows, if they were not landscapes they could safely be called larger than life.

A Rustic Mill

 Bierstadt’s Rustic Mill painting is what I mean when I say quintessence of Dusseldorf style. It has a dark (albeit warm) autumnal palette, super tight composition that steers your eye to the center of the business, and glaze; actually glaze upon glaze used to give more play to the light and the dark. This picturesque view of a mill is far from the “typical” Bierstadt finery as seen in the literally enormous landscapes below.


Lake Tahoe

Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains 

Looking Down the Yosemite Valley

The Rocky Mountains: Lander’s Peak
A brief break in the action here to mention that this catches a trading scene that was hinted at but never fully captured by Alfred Jacob Miller (remember we talked about him and Drummond’s hunting expedition a couple posts ago). This 6′ x 10′ (186.7cm x 306.7cm) painting sold in 1865 for $25,000. When you get over the $25K price tag in Civil War dollars, look again at the size of this thing: Six feet tall by 10 feet wide. What seems like minutiae is in fact fairly detailed and integral part of Bierstadt’s theatrical label. More subtle are the details in perhaps his most famous(?) painting, and I will end with it 
Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie.

Here in all its light and dark ominous and promising romantic glory is a enigmatic mountain peak festooned with threatening clouds. Bierstadt was accompanying an expedition in 1863 when they named this peak after Fitz Ludlow’s (the expedition leader) soon to be ex-wife. Rosalie divorced Fitz after the expedition ended and married Bierstadt (why isn’t this a movie yet?).

Rosalie Osborne Ludlow Bierstadt
The storm over Mt. Rosalie piece is even larger than the Lander’s Peak canvas measuring in at nearly 8′ x 10′ (actually it is 83″ x 142.5″ (210.8cm x 361.3cm)) and contains a mind boggling level of detail. Here is where digital scans have actually aided the eye of the artists. If you open the image up as orignal size you can scroll through and see the highly detailed wild grape(?) vines, indian camp, and a riderless horse running from a horseless rider. The beauty (literally and figuratively in this case) of these immense creations lie in not only how they were made, but how they were exhibited. These would have been installed in an exhibit hall (sometimes only one would make up an entire gallery) with benches installed so that viewers could sit and ponder the moral meaning of the work. The details would have been enjoyed with nothing less than opera glasses. Small scenes would be encapsulated within the field of view of such devices, just as if you were sitting on a nearby peak watching the scene live. 
Most people, however, encountered his works as chromolithographic (and other styles) of illustration in magazines. He was always aiming for government patronage as well as painting for a market. He lived long enough to see his high style go out of favor and criticized for the very romance that it was lauded for when he started. Always conscious of money and living well Bierstadt applied for patents and stayed aware of trends even when not participating in them. He and his brother ran a photography company and many of his paintings are influenced by the stereoscopic images they created. Many of his images have definite foregrounds, midgrounds, and backgrounds that worked in more or less this manner: Photo–>Painting–>Woodcut trying to capture all one scene. 
His home/studio burned in 1882 and he left for Europe looking for investors in his idea of a portable darkroom on a collapsable railroad car. His wife died the following year and left him in a sad state of affairs until he remarried and traveled Eastern Europe through Turkey and thereabouts researching for a grand painting that would be marketed for the upcoming celebration of Christopher Columbus’ 1492 trip (1892) and the American Exposition of 1893. 
The Landing of Columbus
The Columbus piece wasn’t that well received and didn’t aid Bierstadt’s bad final years. In the 1890s he was nearly bankrupt and was forced to sell 150 of his paintings to remain solvent. A casualty of changing American tastes (towards French impressionism) Bierstadt died in 1902, but has left up with some of the grandest–in size and execution–images of the American West which fully supported the vision of Manifest Destiny and the great wealth of the golden lands that he painted. 

Thomas Cole, the Past, the Present, and the Course of Empire

More can be written about the American painter Thomas Cole than I could possibly wrap up in a single post, especially with my extremely limited knowledge of him and his work, but I do know some things worth sharing and hope they may lead you elsewhere for your own private elucidation.

Thomas Cole is considered the father of the Hudson River School of American painting. Cole is known for realistic (I would say hyperrealistic) representations of the American landscape and wilderness. Students of the Hudson River School are marked heavily by his hand and not a small dash of romanticism. This leads to a series of paintings from various artists that are instantly recognizable by their composition and execution as part of the school. Many people notice something familiar about Cole’s (and Hudson River School painters’) work without being totally aware of their connection or provenance.

Thomas Cole February 1, 1801-February 11, 1848 

 One of Cole’s most famous works is a series of five paintings that follow the rise and fall of a civilization. Called The Course of Empire, the series maintains a single cliff as a point of reference as time marches through the highs and lows of life. This has always been one of my favorite series for not only the depiction of a story line but also the process of geological time. The cliff, silent and steadfast watches empires rise and fall. Of course if the series was repainted today the cliff would be blasted away and a prairie would have to reclaim the parking lot that was left.

The Savage State 

 The first in the series shows wilderness at its finest. The Savage State is in a state of savagery. A place ready for the conquering. The tepee and smoke on the right offset the mountain man on the left.

The Arcadian or Pastoral State 

 What a difference a little working on the land makes. Settlers have cleared the land for pasture for their sheep, they are working the land for their own purposes wrestling it from the wilds off nature. Some dancing and boat-building round out the people in the scene. The striking inclusion of a monolithic temple harkens to the pre-super-civilization of the peaceful Grecians. To me it has always looked more like Stonehenge, but it is hard to ignore the Greco-Roman influence in the white marble superstructures of the remaining paintings in the series.

The Consummation of Empire 

 Well, it just doesn’t get any better than this, right? The apex of civility. The statuary, the architecture, the fountains, the artwork, the people, it is all here. Throngs of people look on as ships fill the harbor. The lone cliff faces a man-made mountain of carved marble across the river. What is the worst that could happen.

Destruction

 A long way from the Indian camps on the banks of the river, the city has been sacked, raped and pillaged. Fantastic arched bridges have been destroyed, fire and death reign. One damsel flinging herself over the parapet to protect her honor. The headless warrior is enormous, and striking, even headless. Leading forward, its shield no use in protecting his city. The last time we looked at this in class it finally occurred to me who this *really* is. Thomas Cole, like most men in his position, and some other painters we have discussed here, were staunch anti-democrats–especially Jacksonian democracy. With Old Hickory being one of our military presidents, it is pretty obvious who Cole wanted to portray not only as a soldier, but a headless one ever charging forward. (That may not be the case, but Cole is pretty straightforward with his natural order of things when a fully democratic state is achieved in lieu of an educated elite controlling the republic (Whigs).

Desolation

 The last rays of the day illuminate what is left of the city on the hill.  Ruins reclaimed by nature, on its way back to the savage state. Birds now nest on the towering ornately carved pillar, and the man-made marble mountain has lost its competition with nature’s cliff. No boats sail the harbor, there is nothing to trade, and no one to trade with. The end has arrived, nature slowly takes over. These, completed in 1836 after three years of working only added to the mystique of similar images that John Lloyd Stephens painted of the lost Mayan world in his Incidents of Travel series that ranged from 1837 to 1843.

Cole returned to this chrono-story painting in 1838 in his two part “The Past” and “The Present” paintings featuring a European castle in place of Greco-Roman white marble.

The Past

 A picturesque jousting tournament with a meadow filled with spectators, speeding chargers, tents, and various forms of ye olde  faire merriment. Opulence and wealth cannot be overstated. I am not 100% convinced this isn’t a pseudo-next in the series above with the lookout tower in the background placed on the old cliff overlooking the river.

The Present

 More ruins, this time medieval and not ancient, but ruins nonetheless. While the scene has digressed, savagery has not fully returned. The shepherd is back, perhaps maintaining a herd on the same glade that the original Arcadian sheep grazed.

Regardless of whether they are a continuation of the Empire series or not, this tiny cross section of Thomas Cole’s work gives you some idea of the high romanticism that shaped the Hudson River School of painting. More than just representations of the real or political commentary, Cole weaves hyperrealism with political philosophy to literary paint a portrait of time’s endless march forward (and perhaps with at least some degree of cyclic change).

Defining a Genre: George Caleb Bingham and Genre Painting

When the American Art Union set out to up the standards of American artwork it sought specifically scenes of everyday life in addition to the great high-minded historical painting. One artist capitalized on this trend of “everyday life” paintings in ways few others had or have.

George Caleb Bingham

Born in Virginia Bingham was entirely self taught through copy books and studying prints of old masters. In a way he perfected his triangular composition to an extent that you can usually see the triangles before the painting.

Fur Traders Descending the Missouri.
Nature, Half-breed, European.
The wild animal is one of the big contentions in American Western Art.
It is obviously a cat, a fox, a bearcub, right? Obviously.

He began his work more or less with a series of flatboatman paintings. Bu the time he was painting these scenes of jolly flatboatman, or raftsmen playing cards, steamboats had all but replaced the flatbottom boat as the means of transport of goods and people along the river. Industrious boatmen still made a living as lighters–boats that would take on the stores of a steamboat that had run aground on a sandbar in order to make it lighter to refloat, or wood boats–periodical filling stations for the boiler fuel that paddled the steamships.

Bingham’s images may seem simple, but they bely a keen observation to politics, a topic which Bingham held more than a passing interest. He ran as a whig and was defeated on decision, he was forever suspicious os squatter’s right to vote (temporary votes at best and temporary democratic votes at worst), as well as democrats reluctance to provide funding for improvements such as roads and removing snags and clearing sandbars along the river to aid in expedient and issue-less trade transportation. This background makes Bingham’s Lighter painting more politically charged than it seems at first glance.

The Jolly Boatman. Merriment dancing, giant triangular composition.
Jolly Flatboatman in Port. Steamships looming in the background.
Bingham also reused characters–Quite a bit actually.
Raftsmen Playing Cards. Whittling, drinking waiting. 

The Woodboat. Steamship in the distance. Refueling stations. 
Another Woodboat family. The sun is setting on the image and their way of life
Lighter Relieving the Steamboat Aground. Bingham’s commentary of Jackson and the dirty penny pinching democrats. 

Watching the Cargo. Another steamship in peril. Once the ship was lightened and refloated it could be reloaded, until then, someone had to protect the cargo. 

Bingham also portrayed simple western life as well as laconic riverlife that followed cultural heroes like Mark Fink and the literary waterworld of Mark Twain.

Shooting for a Beef. Like a turkey shoot, but a much larger price.

Bingham’s Shooting for a Beef depicted a standard western fair of folks meeting at the civic center of the town (they are at the Post Office). A little bit of civilization settling down and making something of themselves. It is also a fine example of the growing roles that dogs played in Bingham’s paintings. He would use them as a quasi Greek Chorus to set the mood or tone of an image without specifically setting it within his human characters. 
The Squatters on the other hand offers nothing to be trusted, admired, or appreciated. They are temporary exploiters of the land (and democracy). Even the dog want’s to know what you want. 
The Squatters. Don’t you get the feeling you are bothering them? 
 Bingham’s election series are as powerful political commentary as any text from the mid 19th century. He follows the backslapper and handshaker from the dark rooms into the honest open, to the public debates, the election and the final announcement. 
Country Politician. Ripe with backroom promises and uninterested parties not to mention the little (little?) American Buddha of politics. 
Canvassing for a Vote. out of doors and on the road, Bingham repeats his earlier composition with a little more well to do voter, road-weary politician, Buddha of Politics, uninterested window-gazer, and one thoroughly bored canine. It does feel more open, if not necessarily more honest. 
Stump Speaking. The town is all out, but not all interested. Some AAU critics claimed this was “too busy.” In the end though the Art Union paid $350 for this painting which was the highest ever paid for a Bingham.  
The County Election. Drinks are given for votes, votes are given to drunks (see the man helping his friend in line) swearing in, hat tips, bible oaths, it is all here. Even the literal marginalization of the African American serving the drinks. Something that Bingham will use to greater effect in his last election painting.  

Verdict of the People is almost as busy as his Stump Speaking. See the Jolly Boatman on the right, red neckerchief and all? The central figure is the forlorn African American man situation directly under the flag. Unable to vote, his future is at the mercy of his fellow man. Less obvious are the women on the balcony in the top right waiving their “Remember the Women” banner. They are serving watermelon, and that guy does have on at least three hats. 

 Bingham’s depictions of the simple life were anything but. They are full of symbolism, allegory, and outright political commentary. Something to remember as you peruse art museum and look at the various collections. Remember what was going on at the time these were created, who was creating them (Bingham’s Whig disposition influences a lot), and try to situate them historically. You will get more out of them than simple aesthetics these series and this artist are some of the strongest examples of what the AAU was trying to accomplish and sum up AAU President Prosper Wetmore’s quote which I will end with:

“Pictures are more powerful than Speeches”
–Prosper Wetmore
President of the
American Art Union

PS: For those close enough to make it to Fort Worth the fabulous Amon Carter Museum of American Art is premiering a George Bingham exhibit called Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River on October 2, 2014. The exhibit will run until January 18, 2015 and will then travel on to Saint Louis Art Museum (Feb 22-May 17, 2015) and close out in the MET in New York (June 15-September 20, 2015). There will be examples of Bingham’s copious sketches on hand next to the finished product. Looks like a grand view into the workings of his mind. It is my plan to make it down there next month and hopefully have an update. 

The Artist and the Sportsman

If you are ever presented with a painting featuring some buckskin clad fur trappers in one or more familiar romantic composition, serve up a guess that it was painted by Alfred Jacob Miller and you will be correct more often than not. In fact, Miller was the only painter of his generation to paint the fur trade, so if you know that the painting in question was created in the early 19th century, you would be right 99.99% of the time.

roasting the buffalo hump rib

Bourgeois and his squaw

Quintessential and typical composite of the mountain man/trapper
The real fun (at least for me) comes with Miller’s artist renderings of the hunting and traveling experiences of his patron William Drummond Stewart. The 2nd born to scottich nobility came west to lead the adventurers life and kill everything that moved. He had met Prince Max and Karl Bodmer some years before and may have gotten the idea of hiring an artist accompanist from Max’s scientific expedition. Bodmer was there to document the science of Prince Max’s expedition while Miller was on hand to document the sport of Stewart’s and the last of the largest gathering of traders in the United States. Stewart had friends all over the continent and entertained many, including high ranking Native Americans in a large striped tent complete with Persian rugs. 
William Drummond Stewart, Scottish Nobility, sportsman, and Miller’s patron

Antione Clement, hunter, guide, scout, etc for the Stewart expedition
Miller painted a few versions of this story. 
Shaman said they could fight the whiteman but not strike the first blow, Stewart held his cool and his men and avoided war. He did move enough to shake his stir the flap o n his coat. 

Pipestone, Peeved Buffalo, and Painted Centaurs

Many pages have been written about George Catlin. The grand total falls somewhere close to an acre of  paper timber (I completely made that up so don’t go putting it in your Catlin notes). That hyperbole is, in all actuality, probably a low estimate. Many more megabytes of data have been used on blogs and digital storage of some of his famous Indian paintings. If you ever get a chance you should look more in depth than here about his life, his showmanship, his critics, and his art. One day I hope to have a short post with some of his South America art too, but that is for a later time.

These are not a representative sample of his work, nor are they his best, or most reproduced. They are a few that we have seen in the course I am taking that have stood out to me for various reasons.

He Who Outjumps All 
A lot of grandiose and romantic literature will refer to (some of) the Indians as the people of the horse in some manner as this “and horse and rider moved as one.” Here, Catlin has painted that. It is almost centaur-like in the combination. (Interesting anatomical sidenote: Centaurs would have two sets of ribs.) The headresses, the flowing of the tail and hair, the fringe and the mane are all this surreal symbiotic existence between man and beast. The horse is also dressed up in finery that is far from traditions Indian style. The breast collar, the rump cover, and even the bridle are all of Spanish origin. Here, secondary to the original intent (I say as if I have talked personally with Catlin about it) is evidence of a far reaching trade relationship between the high plains and the American Southwest. Now, you may or may not know how good the Spanish are (were) with horses. Many even fashioned their own versions of Spanish gear. 
The Little Spaniard
Staying with our Spanish theme for one more image is Catlin’s The Little Spaniard or His-oo-san–chees. This spanish child raised into full Indianhood strikes a traditional Greco-Roman pose with all his accessories. The fun behind this one is the name. Take a moment and say pronounce the name outloud, slowly, and then more quickly and see how long it takes you to realize it is Catlin phonetics for Hizo Sanchez. 
Buffalo Bull Grazing

Here Catlin has captured a Buffalo (yes I know it is Bison, there is a Far Side comic for you people) in a general state of agitation, and most definitely not grazing. At some point Catlin had wounded one in a hunt such that it could not charge or cause the artist harm and he circled it on horseback sketching the various moods. When the model grew tired, or held a pose longer than Catlin required he would throw something at him to agitate him more. He mentioned doing this with his hat. I am sure they later ate the buffalo that was killed as this was before the railroad sport and bio-warfare on the Indians dropped their numbers to critical extinction levels.

The Pipestone Quarry
(don’t you love how someone can copyright an image that was painted almost two centuries ago?)

 I end this with a salute to those who study the smallest bits of the earth. Catlin was fortunate enough to see the quarries from whence the raw material for making the famous Indian pipes were created. The pipestone, alternately pipeclay is, for those keeping geological score, an argillite, that is a metamorphosed mudstone. Here Catlin has caught the scene at the mine, in a rough and almost martian landscape. The previous shards and layers split out around the quarry site with the hughe rock formations off to the right (note the tiny figure for scale, I think he is even pointing at it for you). These particular quarry was the first ever seen but white eyes and was in what is present day Minnesota. Other veins exist in Utah and a few other places, but this specific earthly concoction now bears the name Catlinite in the artist’s honor. Once again art and science come together reminding is why we have Colleges of Arts AND Sciences not Colleges of Arts OR Sciences.

Now go spend some time on Google Images looking at all of Catlin’s works.