From the beginning of the nineteenth century, with the Louisiana Purchase, through the rest of the century, Americans have been fascinated by the trans-Mississippi West. This fascination created a ready market for images of the American frontier, a market that was served by a plethora of artists and printmakers.
I have always been interested in depictions of the American West by those who were early travelers there, an interest which has become particularly keen with my move to Denver. I have begun to delve past those prints which I have studied for years, by artists such as George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, Albert Bierstadt, and Thomas Moran, and learn more about the many other artists who traveled to the West on private and government explorations. Thus it was that I was especially pleased to hear of a new exhibition opening up just a few miles from our shop in Denver on the subject of images of the frontier West.
The exhibit is entitled "Visions West: 19th Century Expedition Artists," and it is running from now until April 3rd at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. I was able to attend the opening a couple of weeks ago and I was surprised and absolutely delighted at what a tremendous exhibit it is.
The theme of the exhibit is nineteenth century printed images of the American West done by on-the-spot artists. The prints in the exhibit are from the collection of Graham Curtis (about whose collection I will be writing a blog in the near future), which were generously loaned to the Arvada Center by Graham and Barbara Curtis with the help of their daughter Kay Hunsaker. The quality, variety and scope of the prints in the exhibit are amazing, making this an exhibition which anyone interested in the topic has to try to come and view.
The big names--Catlin, Bodmer, Bierstadt, Audubon, Moran--are all there, but the real strength in the exhibit are all the less well known, but equally important artists who documented the West between 1822 and 1883. Some of these artists, such as Seth Eastman, Peter Rindisbacher, and A.E. Mathews, were not part of Government expeditions, but most of the artists whose prints are on display were part of various explorations sent out by the Federal government. These include images by artists such as James W. Abert, John Mix Stanley, Samuel Seymour, John J. Young, Arthur Schott and many more whose accurate, first-hand images provide us with a window on the American West while it was still a "wild frontier."
The exhibition in Arvada is very nicely presented. The prints are arranged by artist, rather than date, and this allows one to look at some of these familiar prints from a new perspective, focusing on the artists, not so much the expeditions. The staff has written informative text on each artist and his work, and so the exhibit is a feast for the mind as well as the eye. All involved should be proud of this wonderful exhibit and again I encourage anyone who can to stop by to see the exhibit before it closes on April 3rd.