Foothills Art Center

Golden, CO



Horse & Rider in the Harmsen Collection of Western Art

Through January 14, 2001


A selection of 30 works from the extensive Harmsen Collection focuses on the international iconic symbol of the Old West era in America: horses and riders, ranging from early paintings by William Robinson Leigh and Carl Clemens Moritz Rungius to Taos scenes by Walter Ufer and Oscar E. Berninghaus, and more recent work by Frank Tenney Johnson, Frank E. Schoonover, Gerald Curtis Delano, Harvey Dunn and Ross Stefan, among others. (left: Gerald Curtis Delano, When Fur Was King, oil, 28 x 34 inches)

The works are displayed in the National Historic Register mansion which is part of the Foothills Art Center complex, and they strike a note of authenticity in that Victorian setting. Many of the deceased artists were born about the same time as Remington and Russell. They are linked to these masters chronologically in that many were also born in the 1860s. They virtually comprise a kind of "fifth wave" of authentic Western Art. First there were George Catlin, Karl Bodmer and Alfred Jacob Miller, breaking artistic ground as they accompanied wilderness expeditions from the 1830s on. Second came the great landscapists such as Bierstadt and Moran, followed by Remington and Russell . The Taos founding artists comprised a fourth Western art genre in the first quarter of the 20th century. Influenced by all these forebears -- but looking especially to Remington and Russell, the artists on display might be termed "Cowboy Artists of the early to mid-twentieth century." (left: Harold Bryant, Strategy of the Wild, oil, 24 x 32 inches)

Nine of the artists were born in the West, and many of these worked at ranching or related activities. Some of the nine were deeply trained in art schools; others were self-taught. The remaining group were born in the east, Midwest or outside the U.S. At least eight of the group indulged their fascination with the American west by working, initially, as illustrators for eastern magazines such as Colliers or Harpers, or by doing book illustrations. Even as some modeled their styles on Remington and Russell, many were also deeply interested in the broken brushwork and dappled light of French Impressionism. (left: Clarence McGrath, Silk and Velvet, oil, 18 x 24 inches)

Chronologically, geographically and emotionally linked to the activity and values of the Old West, these may represent the last generation of artists whose western scenes resound with not only attention to detail (such as the correct anatomy of the horse) but also with passion and conviction.


Horse & Rider in the Harmsen Collection of Western Art

by Carol Dickinson, Director, Foothills Art Center


The People

Coloradoans Dorothy and Bill Harmsen, founders of the Jolly Rancher Candy Company, have put together one of the most extensive private collections of Western art in America. Golden, Jefferson County, Colorado, and art-lovers nationally are fortunate to have access to selections from this important collection via local and out-of-state exhibitions and by referring to the books written by Dorothy Harmsen.

Foothills Art Center is honored to present selections loaned by The Harmsen Museum Foundation and its administrator, Bill Harmsen, Jr. We are grateful for his installation advice, as well, and for the many services provided by his assistant, Margaret Fee. Additional important support has been provided by underwriting of major exhibition expenses by anonymous friends of the Harmsens. Foothills Art Center's staff and volunteers have worked diligently to convert these interior rooms of Foothills II into exhibition space. A major in-kind contribution from Dave Nestor, owner of Foothills Lighting, supported the installation of a new lighting system. Foothills thanks volunteer painters Marian Herald and Lee Hovey King.

The Exhibition Organizers were: Carol Dickinson, FAC director; Kristi Martens, Ph.D., FAC curator; Jason Musgrave, installation supervisor; and Dave Seiler, installation aide. Administrative aide Michelle Gallagher organized the Foothills print and memorabilia shop, with installation help from Dave Seiler.


The Place

Foothills II is, like the main building, a National Historic Register property. It was constructed in 1899 by architect Pierre Unger when the neighborhood, housing the handsome courthouse building, was known as "Courthouse Hill." It was considered an elegant residential area, and was home to a succession of civic leaders and Colorado School of Mines professors or administrators. Once a fraternity house, the property at 1510 Washington Ave. was purchased by Foothills Art Center in 1983 to house offices and a year-around gift gallery. The present usage as exhibition space may furnish a model for future usage, at least for a portion of the building


The Exhibition

For at least 150 years, the cowboy astride his horse has been the international iconic image of the American West. Perceptions of the cowboy have changed as the "Old West" of wilderness exploration, Indian wars, pioneers, railroads and cattle drives has given way to urbanization and industrialization.

This exhibition presents images of archetypal cowboy activity (herding and roping) but also of Indians shown in natural harmony with their mounts. A prophetic note in the show is sounded by the inclusion of a delightful painting by Navajo artist Robert Chee: Native Americans comprised -- since the early 1800s -- a favored subject for Anglo and European artists. Since the mid-twentieth-century, American Indians have emerged as the chroniclers of their own experience, with the ascendancy of masters such as Allan Houser, Jaune Quick-to-see-Smith, Fritz Scholder and many other painters and sculptors.

The Harmsen collection and this small selection from its thousands of works, is rich in a sub-genre of the history of Western art -- literally, works by "Cowboy Artists." The label can be applied both to artists whose experience included riding, ranching and roping, and to artists who made the recording of Old West activities their lifework - -often being rewarded with membership in honorary (and "booster") organizations such as Cowboy Artists of America and the National Academy of Western Art.

The work of such artists actually, of course, stretched beyond ranch and open range activity, with many artists gravitating toward a final emphasis on the "Indian" side of the "cowboy and Indian" equation, or upon the western landscape as a subject in itself.

All artists of the West work in the memory of great groundbreaking artist-forbears. Western art history began in the 1830s when - -in the wake of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark's expeditions opening the West, trained artists such as George Catlin; Karl Bodmer and Alfred Jacob Miller accompanied European adventurers, fur traders or military parties into the Plains and Rocky Mountains.

The next "chapter" of the story of Western art was executed by the bold landscapists, both born outside the United States, Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran. Their first-hand observations of the West's dramatic landforms, light and life resulted in, often, huge canvases which introduced many easterners to the lure of the West for the first time. They accompanied military or geologic survey teams, and their landscapes were widely disseminated in museums, but also in photo reproductions in books and magazines. Peaking in the 1860s and 70s, their careers actually were set back, if only temporarily, by the surge of interest in Impressionism -- over meticulous realistic renderings.

Frederick Remington and Charlie Russell were born in the 1860s. Their total engagement with frontier life -- especially their devotion to accurate and dramatic depiction of horses and men in action -- made them the models for cowboy art from their time forward. If wilderness adventurers, expeditionary artists, and Remington/Russell wrote the first three chapters of Western art history, the fourth was authored by the group of well-trained eastern and Midwestern artists who migrated to Taos at the turn of the century in order to paint the settled Southwestern Pueblo Indians and the dramatic New Mexico vistas.

The group represented so well in the Harmsen collection and in this exhibition include several noted Taos founding artists (Berninghaus and Ufer). Many others, (working from the early twentieth century until -- in a handful of cases of living artists -- the present) are stylistically linked to all the distinguished predecessors -- but most strongly, perhaps, to Remington and Russell.

Many of these "Cowboy Artists," whom we may style as a fifth category in Western art history, reveal an interest in Impressionistic modes such as broken, swift brushwork. These, of course, are modes which Remington and Russell disliked and vocally discredited. The training of the twentieth century artists in this show ranged widely: nine of the artists were born in the West and many of these worked at ranching or related activities. Some of the nine were deeply trained in art schools; others were self-taught. The remaining group were born in the east, Midwest or outside the U.S. At least eight of the artists indulged their fascination with the American west by working, initially, as illustrators for eastern magazines such as Colliers or Harpers, or by doing book illustrations -- sometimes for the Western pulp novels so popular in the 20s and 30s in America.

Art historians credit the late 19th century as "The Golden Age of Illustrators." (Remington is often numbered among these; he did many hundreds of illustrations for books and magazines). An artist named Howard Pyle was the giant of that Golden Age. He established an art school in Pennsylvania at Chadds Ford on the Brandywine River. Among his great students were N.C. Wyeth (father of Andrew) and Harvey Dunn. An amazing number of this show's artists acknowledge Howard Pyle as an influence, or they cite Harvey Dunn (whose work is represented in the exhibition) as one who imbued them with a sense of the integrity and the romance of recording the life of the West.

These exhibition artists remain chronologically, geographically, and emotionally linked to the activity of the Old West. They may be the last generation of artists whose western scenes resound with conviction and passion as well as nostalgia. Whatever their birthplaces or training, the artists in this exhibition shared a sense that the frontier spirit still lived, and that it was (or is) a fitting focus for a life in art.


Related reading in this magazine:

American Equine and Wildlife Art:
Western Genre Art:
Southwest Painting:

Read more about the Foothills Art Center in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

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

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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