Anasazi Heritage Center

Dolores, CO



Artists of the American West

October 23, 1999 - January 16, 2000


Trappers, traders, settlers in covered wagons, Pony Express riders, railroad builders, bison, and grizzly bears are all part of an exhibit "Artists of the American West" at the Anasazi Heritage Center continuing through January 16, 2000.

Nineteen of the 19th century's best-known artists-- including Frederic Remington, Albert Bierstadt , John James Audubon, John Woodhouse Audubon,George Catlin, F.O.C. Darley, Seth Eastman, Henry F. Farny, John Mix Stanley, and Karl Bodmer- created these works between 1835 and 1886, a period which spanned the beginning and the end of the western frontier era. They were adventurers from Europe and America, and many were schooled in European painting styles. But their common theme was the landscape and native people of the western United States. The lithographs and hand-colored engravings in the exhibit are from work they did expressly for reproduction in books or magazines. (left: Albert Bierstadt, A Halt in the Yosemite Valley, n.d., engraving, 7 x 9 7/8 inches)

As the frontier opened to explorers and pioneers, artists became journalists providing "news" of the territory and its people. Eastern audiences were hungry to ]earn who, what, and where the West was. The artists were eager to comply.

Karl Bodmer arrived from Zurich in 1832 at age 23, to explore North America under the patronage of a German prince. The project reflected a surge of curiosity in Europe about exotic places and cultures. Bodmer's watercolors were the basis for his book Journey into the Interior of North America.

Bodmer's American contemporary George Catlin covered the same territory, but painted outside the European academic tradition. His two-volume Manners, Customs and Conditions of the North American Indians (1841) was a farsighted work cataloging Native American tribes and describing their exploitation by white settlers.

Charles Bird King, known for his portraits of Native American leaders, never traveled west of the Alleghenies. King met his subjects only when they visited Washington as guests of the government. Much of King's original work was destroyed by fire in 1865. but reached the public as published lithographs.Each artist reflected his time. The earliest ones witnessed the dawn of western expansion. They were fascinated with untouched wilderness and Native Americans. But later artists glorified settlers' reshaping of the West for their own ends, and the desire for domination of the land and the native cultures. Art from the end of the era shows nostalgia for an already legendary Wild West, as the frontier was fast disappearing.

The emotion-laden images contributed to the myth of the West as a romantic horizon of endless opportunity -- rich with romance, danger, and the exotic. Through these works we can share in the excitement of the original public that viewed them, and the West itself, for the first time.

"Artists of the American West" is a program of Exhibits USA, a division of the Mid-America Arts Alliance.

The Anasazi Heritage Center is ten miles north of Cortez or three miles west of Dolores on Highway 184. Admission is free through February, 2000.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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