Category Archives: Art History

The Road to Comps Part 17: Art and the American West in the 19th Century: Photography

I have found it odd that the case has to be made to study photography and art as source material and not merely “visual aids.” The only think that is even more odd is that this case is relatively recent.

Print the Legend

The four books and one article in this little operating section tend to all say the same thing–photographs are important not because they are photographs, and not even because the subjects of the photographs, but because they represent a distinct moment in time of an ever-changing culture. The contextual culture of regional and temporal data are frozen in time just as the faces of early portraits. Each work provides its own examples of why this is an important shift in thinking about images.   As Martha Sandweiss points out in Print the Legend sometimes what isn’t photographed or what was photographed and then lost can reveal as much (if not more) about a certain moment in the past.  Sandweiss provides a solid foundation that scholars should use in reassessing their relationships with photographs. I believe this improved methodology will also easily cover other visual culture as well.  Print the Legend could easily be a history of technology work as it follows the exponential developments of photography across two generations (her investigation ends in the 1890s) which happens to parallel the development of America’s mythos regarding their newly acquired and explored territories. For my purposes, she provides the best answer for why, after a MA in American History I have shifted over to work with the Art Historians for my dissertation:

“A lingering bias in historical training teaches would-be historians to value the literary over the visual or material, and teaches them how to query, challenge, and interpret literary documents, while leaving them few analytical skills for the interpretation of visual records”

While looking back through some of the little work I have done with photography (only really starting in 2014) I did find a C-SPAN video of this very book, and it is worth the time you can devote to it:

A funny aside is that you can purchase this as a DVD or an MP3. The latter of which you can listen to Sandweiss describe the photographs, which leads one to believe they missed the point.

Print the Legend

Alan Trachtenberg’s Reading American Photographs: Images as History, Matthew Brady to Walker Evens is one of the earliest books (1990) to call for a shift in the understanding of photographs. It is one of those books that requires complete attention and an appropriate amount of pyschological working up to undertake. It is dense.

Reading American Photographs

Not in a bad way, but at times the theoretical asides (which I am certain Trachtenberg does not see as asides) get in the way of the point he wishes to drive home. My first run in with Trachtenberg was his first book about the Brooklyn Bridge. While reading this I went back and thumbed through some things in it on a hunch. Photographs does continue Trachtenberg’s thread of America as imagination. In fact in 1965 he called it “An America of the imagination.” In addition to starting the stone rolling on photography reassessment in history, Trachtenberg offers a short sentence that I am certain will come up for expansion in my future work:

“Thus O’Sullivan placed the survey camera among the instruments of practical science, allowing the history and meaning of the Western surveys (the conjunction of “pure” science and imperial economic enterprise) to reveal their contradictions” (289)

The remaining books in this section could be considered “popular” books each focusing on a single photographer as they managed to work their way through the new continental nation and new technologies in order to make names for themselves as photographers.

Meaningful Places

In Meaningful Places: Landscape Photographers in the Nineteenth Century American West, Rachel McLean Sailer highlights that print making and mythmaking went hand in hand. Few of the landscapes are void of human life or activity, to the contrary many settlers used photographs of themselves in their new spaces as vindication for the success and progress of American culture. Photographs provided constant reassurance that people were indeed where they belonged. A sense of place for people who had left their cities or even countries in the case of foreign born immigrants was something that most settlers struggled to maintain, but photography, according to Sailer was instrumental in calming some of those unspoken fears.

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis is another notch on Timothy Egan’s literary gun. I have personally read two other of his works: The Worst Hard Time and The Big Burn. Egan doesn’t write books you can glean which is one of the reasons I enjoy assigning them. The book itself follows the drama of Curtis’ life as he moved across the West capturing moments that were fading away.  The story of forgotten  photographs rediscovered are as much the legend as Curtis’ “quixotic” quest to capture native life.  Which I think is captured better in this variant cover:

Shadow Catcher better cover

The renaissance of his work in the 1970s installed Curtis at the forefront of historical photography. Even as historians in the 80s attacked his work for being staged or “playing dress up.” Egan points out that Curtis heard these attacks during his life, and never denied it. His defense provides insight into his work and the importance of photography in the late 19th century: he wanted to represent the past, not document the present of the future.  His time in Oklahoma in the 1920s saw many of the natives already fully remodeled into Euro-American culture and his pace in his “race against time” hastened.  For Curtis himself, the 2001 documentary Coming to Light is an excellent way to start. I apologize for the ads in the linked video but it was the only site that had the full program to share. Here is a snippet. You can see the whole thing here.


Curtis was involved in the Harriman Expedition in 1899 which, at this planning stage, will be the final expedition in my dissertation. Curtis also employed the new technology of moving pictures after the turn of the century, which ties back into the final book of Eadward Muybridge.

River of Shadows

As with Sandweiss and others, the nature of photography in the American West also serves as a history of technology.  Nowhere in these readings (maybe even more broadly) is that more evident than in Rebecca Solnit’s River of Shadows: Eadward Muybridge and teh the Technological Wild West. In fact, Muybridge’s life can be seen as a parallel with both the arc of the West and the rise of photography. He “invented” himself in western culture, photographed through the landscapes as did his contemporaries, and then made studies with the movement displayed in still photographs. His moving pictures were the legacy his family life never produced. Solnit describes Muybridge as a man who “split the second,” which had “as dramatic and far reaching [effect] as splitting the atom” (7). One reviewer did not care for this phrasing, but given the circumstances and the tenor of the book (and Muybridge’s life) I think it fits.

The final piece was an article in the Art Bulletin in December 2003 highlighting Timothy O’Sullivan as a survey photographer. Trachtenberg mentioned O’Sullivan in the quote above as the person who brought photography into the came of scientific instruments. Robin E. Kelsey’s article “Viewing the Archive: Timothy O’Sullivan’s Photographs for the Wheeler Survey, 1871-74” look at the photographs as a new form of graphic representation. That is a more precise way of expressing the landscapes, forms, materials, etc that the survey encountered.  “Pictorial Rhetoric” became the tool for people like Ferdinand Hayden in order to increase (or sustain) federal appropriations for their continued surveys. One of the mor interesting portions of the articles many photographs is the  sort of “line of custody” we see in O’Sullivan’s (i.e. The Survey’s) photographs:

From Robin E. Kelsey, "Viewing the Archive: Timothy O'Sullivan's Photographs for the Wheeler Survey, 1871-74." Art Bulletin 65 (Dec 2003), pp. 702-723
From Robin E. Kelsey, “Viewing the Archive: Timothy O’Sullivan’s Photographs for the Wheeler Survey, 1871-74.” Art Bulletin 65 (Dec 2003), pp. 702-723

A final thought on this reframing of photography as primary sources is stirred by the author byline in Kelsey’s article. “He is preparing a book on Survey photography.” If the article is any indication it will be an excellent book. I wonder though, if the pendulum is swinging too far into the study of photographs as primary sources that they will become more detached from their created context as they become topics or study. Something like Survey photographs is an excellent topic to undertake, but at the time the photographs, as graphic representations, were another means of transferring information and raising interest in the surveys, government exploration, and the American West as construed by the myth-makers. I think it shows the power of photographs to evoke audience interest and emotion that no popular book has been written on the Survey graph or map making or their field reports as entities. Journals have been reprinted and photos as well, but I think it will a long time before the similarities and differences between visual and literary will ever be hammered out.

The Road to Comps part 16: Art and the American West in the 19th Century: Studies of Individual Artists

This will be one of the shortest posts made on this travelogue through everything in print (Every time I start this way I drone on for over 1000 words). This is not due to the end of the semester doldrums (I’ve been on 12 -month work contracts since moving up here) or the holidays (I’d rather not do them), but because the bulk of what I have read is review of review of things that I have already written about at great length. In fact, it was precisely such foci that started my posting in earnest as I collected and transcribed my notes for class. In addition to typing up the notes I was able to track down most of the images that we used in class and included them in with their appropriate author. There is no need to re-invent the wheel at this point, so I will link to them throughout the post. This is an excellent time to realize that my previous work is now back paying dividends.

Before moving on to the two main points I want to make in this post, I wish to take a moment to remark on the shifts of formulas in the books read about individual artists. I have moved on from the rubrics of “academic” writing and fallen into the interesting (and more visually appealing) gallery books that accompanied exhibits across the United States (and sometimes farther). These collections of essays group around the artists whose work is on display and offers just enough insight to be interesting but not so much as to be overly useful for comprehensive exams preparation. I have enjoyed them though.


Early in my foray into the Art History department I made a remark about there being so few artist biographies. One of the other students (now a director at a museum in New Mexico) voiced disagreement, but offered no examples outside of these collected essays or a few pages of encyclopedia entries. I still stand by my complaint. I am not suggesting separating the artist from their work, but more bringing in as full a context as we can manage for the world their work was a part of.


What can be done is something along the lines of what Benita Eisler does for George Catlin in The Red Man’s Bones. I have read this book once before (and never got around to reviewing it which was what this whole stupid spelunk into blogging was supposed to be), but reading it a second time after reading about the culture of the growing United States, showmanship, art, and European tours, it is an even better example of taking someone who is currently existing “out of time” and putting them back into the structure that shaped there careers. For my take on Catlin see this old post.



Bierstadt and Bingham both have (excellent) posts of their own as well. I was actually able to visit the Bingham exhibit Navigating the West (which is the exhibit book that I just finished) and get a tour with the co-curator Nenette Luarca-Shoaf.


One of the best books in this section that isn’t currently being held for ransom by some other library patron (the Winslow Homer book will have to be edited back in this post or added to another one when it finally gets returned to the library) is Robert Taft’s Artists and Illustrators of the Old West 1850-1900. Each chapter is an excellent overview of an artist or a set of artists working in the same genre or region. Each one of these chapters could easily be made into a book. In fact, taking Taft as a starting point and Eisler as an end template I think one could make a lasting furrow into that lack of useful biography thing I mentioned earlier. The kicker with Taft’s work is that is was published in 1953. On a hunch I emailed one of my professors and asked if there were any updated versions or had anyone added to it. He replied there were some updated materials but no one has done it better than Taft. After finishing the book, I have to agree. It is one of those that has been added to the “purchase own copy” list that is an outgrowth of this project.


One of those included in Taft’s survey was William Jacob Hays. I bring this one up here because he might be lesser known than anyone mentioned here (or even in Taft’s book) but produced one of my favorite paintings that I have actually seen because it is at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa: Herd of Buffaloes on the Bed of the River Missouri. The sheer mass of the megafauna portrayed in the river bed give an idea of how many buffalo there were. I suppose thinking back to the environmental histories I have read here, it really is sort of the same thing as Burroughs’ poetry about nature and descriptions of the Passenger Pigeons. (this whole endeavor is turning into Dirk Gently’s Holistic detective agency). 




Moving on from Taft and Buffalo I want to end with Alfred Jacob Miller and horses. Like the others I have reviewed Miller in previous posts but there are a few points to add here, less because they are new to the discussion and more because they are familiar to my life before the university: horses.

At the height of or equine days my family had 17 horses full under AQHA values, papers and all. Our number one stallion was born two weeks before I was and only recently died a year ago. Turns out he was 96 or 98% Foundation Quarter Horse which means that I could have completed all of my schooling and advanced degrees with the stud fees we never charged.


I tell that story to set up the one about Miller’s horses. When we first started looking at Miller’s paintings in class I recognized his horses all looked like Arabians which where the stock the Spanish brought back to the United States (I saw “back” because paleontologically speaking horses first evolved in the “new” world before invading the old and going extinct here). I never thought more about it until reading more about the complaints people have about Miller’s horses. They were too Arabian to be authentic wild ponies that the Indians were riding. This is the keystone in this whole putting the artist back into their context lamentation I keep tearing my sackcloth over. Miller may best be remembered for his commissions for the Scottish nobleman William Drummond Stewart.


Miller only ventured west for a few months of his life. His real mark of success (by that I mean living comfortably off his art) was back in Baltimore where he set up his studio in the center of the trade offices of the merchants, bankers, and lawyers. Just like real estate art patronage is all about location, location, location. These were the wellest-to-do of New England and were part of the growing trend in thoroughbred horse breeding and racing of which Arabians was choice starting stock. These were the people purchasing Miller’s work and commissioning his time. They expected to see Arabain horses, so that is what Miller gave them. Miller clearly had a feel for his genre, but he also had a handle on the desires of his audience. In addition to the real estate location, he also  mastered another rule central to all forms of artistry–know your audience.


Just so they are most included, here is the link to my Karl Bodmer and Thomas Moran posts too. I will come back and add anything pertinent on Frederich Church or Winslow Homer if I find anything in this book:


The culmination of that course and all that blogging was a huge paper that was one of my favorites of writing since being at OU and, as it happens, may actually be a full third of my comprehensive exams: Artists on Expedition: Artifacts, Authenticity and Authority in Early 19th Century American Art of the American West. 

The Road to Comps part 15: Art and the American West in the 19th Century: General Background

Art and the American West is the most recent undertaking of my long and checkered career as an academic. Since finishing my MA in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine I have spent a great deal of time in our Art History department learning ways to tie in the  arts to the American cultural studies that I seem to have fallen into in recent years.

The greatest benefit to getting into a program at this late in the game is that you are still interested in the topic and it hasn’t been completely scraped from your soul by years of arguing theory. I have always said that the surest way to remove any of the joy in literature is to study it at university. The same can be applied to art.

Since I have been involved in the courses or the last two years, the three intro books on my list are excellent reviews for stuff we’ve talked about in class. In class we spent more time with articles and visual analysis and less with the broader portrayals and involvement of the artists, art (as object), and art (as culture) within their historical context. This is also the same field that led to the more structured development of this blog and eventually the webpage where it lives. Many of the individual artists that will come into play in the future posts will be linked back to my first art history works that used some of the books in the series as part of the courses I was taking.

From what I have been working on, I find it is completely impossible to understand the antebellum period in American history without understanding its art. All of these overview books are collections of essays that isolate major themes and then reapply them back to the larger American Cultural landscape.

Reading American Art

Reading American Art (Marianna Doezema and Elizabeth Milroy) offers a handy collection of American Art and their interpretations through the academy and through time. The survey runs from the colonial period through to Jackson Pollock. For my purposes the usefulness of this collection comes from the analysis of the early 19th century establishment of art as American. There is much lamentation over the fact that Americans had little pride in their own form of art. The hardest question to answer or explain is the schizophrenic nature of early art in American that needed to prove it was its own thing while striving to make it work on European terms. Political history sets up the development of this art form less in manner of than artists and more in the manner of the artists’ patrons. Whigs and Democrats in the early to mid 19th century were both striving to arrange the new Republic in a manner that benefitted their constituency. The lack of any actual aristocracy and the expansion os suffrage to those who did not own land drove the Whigs to seek control over American culture where it had lost control over American politics.  Instead of calling themselves Dukes or Lords, they opted for the title of patroon and shifted to constructing reflections of American culture through their patronage of early American artists.

American Icons

American Icons (Thomas W. Gaehtgens and Heinz Ickstadt) is a larger format and, frankly, easier to read version of Reading American Art. The essays are all arranged from a comparison perspective between American and European art. Many of them are comparing the differences in the American arc from those of their European counterparts. Save one. William Hauptman’s essay “Kindred Spirits: Notes on Swiss and American Painting of the Nineteenth Century” looks at the parallels with Swiss and American art, most notably the fact that national artists had to leave the nation (Switzerland or the US) in order to make their names and (however measly of) fortunes in the art world. The most interesting aspect beside the timing is the cultural arrangement of Switzerland that can be used to illuminate that of the American side. With a population less than that of New York of City, Switzerland was self divided into regional cultures that “shared more differences than similarities” and led to a multifaceted emergence of “Swiss” art. (Contrary to popular belief Swiss art is not art that is full of holes).

Nineteenth Century American Art

Finally, Barbara Groseclose’s Nineteenth-Century American Art is part of the Oxford History of Arts series and is filled not only with useful chapters and asides, but with further reading and sections on which museums to visit to see some of the famous collections of American art. As with the others, Groseclose starts American Art in Boston and follows it through the development of art unions as “culture” spreads through New York and Philadelphia. One of the strengths of this book is that was published with most of the art images in color. Even Reading American Art which sold itself on being a collection of essays intended to remove the need for bad photocopies of articles and aides for teaching class was published without colored images.

These intros all serve to orient oneself in the larger field of American Art History as it pertains to the Antebellum period which all have mentioned is a bit of a black hole of art history theory (which I think is one of its strong suit) even as it proves to be more important for the development of the culture of the young Republic than it at first seems. You can’t separate early American history from early American Art History and have either make any sense. Many of the artists that have works in this books were mentioned by name and covered in the books of the previous posts. Even those like John Haberle, and William Harnett who aren’t as famous as Bingham, Bodmer, or Bierstadt (who ironically, may not be that popular either given the number of times these authors talk about the obscurity of American artists in the 19th century.  These early collections and studies from the mid-late 1980s all remark that this period in Art History has fallen under that research of American Cultural History and American Studies departments which means I have been on the right track trying to put it all together to understand a more complete America during the long 19th century.

I will end this with the same thing I tweeted when I finished the last book: “It should be illegal to publish black and white images of colored art works in art books.”

Prehistory and Paleolithic Pop Culture

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Image Source:

Turns out Hugh Hudson has a new film out that focuses on the discovery of the prehistoric cave paintings in Altamira. If you aren’t familiar with the discovery, the Cliff Notes version is an 8 year old girl named Maria led her father Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola to a cave which held amazing paleolithic paintings of bison among other wonders; scientific debates ensue.

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Image Source: Screen capture from Mark Knopfler Making of Altamira Soundtrack video on youtube
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Image Source: Screen capture from Mark Knopfler Making of Altamira Soundtrack video on youtube

The end of the 19th century was rife with debates on man’s place in nature as well as the entire story of mankind in general. The established French view was that prehistoric humans were incapable of such higher forms of thought required to create such things. Arguments about the past and the professional nature of the scientists and divided disciples were heated, marked, and many times personal. Paleoanthropology and other disciplines as we know them were in their infancies fetal stages and battle for the authority to pontificate on humanity’s past was as much the prize as finding answers to the questions they were asking.

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Image Source: Screen capture from Mark Knopfler Making of Altamira Soundtrack video on youtube
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Image Source: Screen capture from Mark Knopfler Making of Altamira Soundtrack video on youtube

Having done a fair amount of research on the Piltdown Affair and its context within the debates that came to a head because of find like Altamira, I am especially intrigued. Adding to that is the fact that like so many other important discoveries in this period it was made by an amateur. That is to say it was reported by an amateur since it was originally discovered by a child.

Drawing of Altamira cave originally from grotte d’Altamira, Espagne. Relevé du plafond aux polychromes publié par M. Sanz de Sautuola en 1880 (d’après Cartailhac, 1902) hosted on Wikimedia Commons

The movie itself looks wonderful since it will have the debates and forces of will involved (including the Church). It also included the wonder that fills Maria as the bison from the cave come alive in her dreams and become a part of her.

Bison in the reproduction museum in Altamira
Bison in the reproduction museum in Altamira

As with most things in life I didn’t get to this from any direct route. I actually first heard of this film through a trailer for its soundtrack. As bizarre as soundtrack trailers sound the bits and pieces around it are where I can glean more of the story.

Mark Knopfler and Evelyn Glennie worked together to create the score for the film and it sounds incredible. It was on Mark’s official Facebook page that I first say the trailer to the soundtrack. Complete with the reimagined stylized version of the famous bison on the front.

The bison form Altamira are iconic and you may recognize them from the plethora of Bisonte cigarette ads/packs that are everywhere. (I say everywhere, that may only be the case if you are as interested in Spain as I am).  If not everywhere then at least on which is a more useful website than you may think, especially for someone who studies visual culture.

Bisonte Cigarrettes, From
Bisonte Cigarrettes, From

Getting to the heart of the film is difficult since all the available trailers are in Spanish since it was released there at the first of this month (April 2016). This isn’t because the film is in Spanish, but because of locality (I guess). So the trailers are dubbed into Spanish which just strikes me as odd, even if I am appreciative of the fact that was produced in English.

There are a few English clips that are part of the making of the soundtrack video below where I grabbed some of the above photos. As far as the cave itself goes, it remains closed to visitors since the damage it sustained from visitor’s breathing in the 1960s. The museum close by has a full replica included some sculptures of human faces that you couldn’t get to in the cave itself.  There are also reproductions in Madrid, Germany, and most recently Japan.  The Caves were up for reopening to the public a few years ago, but in an effort to preserve the site the decision was made to keep them closed. looking at a fake trope was still contentious in 2014.

The Cave was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985 and they have a short video on it as well. Until it gets wider release this will have to suffice to piece together what is going on.


Update: Aug. 3, 2016 Full length English trailer finally hits youtube.


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.